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Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Statement at Signing of NATO Accession Protocols with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium, December 16, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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As Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon. I am very happy to be here and to add my congratulations on behalf of President Clinton and all Americans to Foreign Ministers Geremek, Kovacs and Sedivy. Let me thank Secretary-General Solana and all my NATO colleagues -- present and future -- for all they have done to bring this day about.

It was not too long ago that we looked upon the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland as history’s victims and hoped against hope that some day they might emerge from the shadows of empire with the chance to shape their own destinies.

Today, that past seems distant; the progress of history has outpaced even our fondest aspirations.

Today, the people of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland take one more step in their journey to freedom -- a journey that began during the long night of resistance to oppression, one that advanced when they gained the right to speak the truth and elect their leaders, one that continues as they exercise the sovereign right to choose their associations in Europe and the world.

Today, these three nations are one step closer toward regaining the place in Europe they lost 50 years ago. And we are one step closer to having three more good, dependable allies who are prepared to accept responsibility for the security of others.

I suppose the cynics will still ask whether all this means NATO is going to have to fight for Gdansk. What it really means is that these three nations are prepared to stand up for us if need be, whether we live in G’Dover, G’Dunkirk or G’Dallas. And we all understand that by making this commitment and meaning it we are expanding the area of the world where wars just do not happen.

But this event is not just an opportunity for celebration -- we’ve done that before and if all goes well, we will again when we gather as 19 allies at the next leaders’ summit in 1999.

The signing of these accession documents has a very specific meaning. For six months since Madrid, we have been engaged in intensive discussions with our prospective allies. We have studied their preparations and examined their capabilities. And today we are attesting with our signatures that these three countries are able to assume the obligations of NATO membership.

Their democracies are strong and reliable. Their economies are growing. Their military infrastructures are more advanced than many of us expected. And thanks to the Partnership for Peace, their armed forces are making good progress in adapting to NATO’s standards and procedures.

Simply put, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are ready. And NATO is ready to benefit from their membership.

Still, the process of accession is far from complete. Now that the Protocols have been signed and we have agreed on the issue of costs, we face the critical challenge of ratification.

In the United States, I certainly do not have the final word on NATO enlargement, and neither does President Clinton. The final word belongs to the members of the United States Senate and the citizens they represent. While the debate has begun and many members of Congress from both political parties have embraced the goals of this effort, I do not take approval for granted.

And if we are successful, for our future allies even that will not be an end but a beginning. We will have to work hard to ensure that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are fully and successfully integrated into our alliance. And we will need to constantly remember that our goal is not just to come together, but to come together to shoulder common responsibilities and to take common actions that will strengthen our security.

Nor will the process of enlargement be complete with the admission of these three nations. Others will follow in their footsteps, with what I trust will be their encouragement.

At this ministerial we agreed to begin a new round of dialogues with all those nations that still aspire to membership. That is the same process which helped these first three prepare for this day. It will continue, as will our effort to build even closer ties with Russia, Ukraine and all of the new democracies.

We’re drawing closer to our goal of a Europe in which every nation is free and every free nation is our partner. To that end we rededicate ourselves today, confident that with the promise of new allies, the promise of our alliance will always be fulfilled.

[End of Document]

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