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NATO Focuses on Terrorism After Approving Expansion

By David Holley
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- PRAGUE

NATO leaders approved a historic expansion Thursday that will take the alliance beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union and, moving even further from the old Cold War posture, endorsed a shift in emphasis toward fighting terrorism.

The Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were invited to join, as were Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. They are due to join by May 2004, after their parliaments and those of current members ratify the enlargement.

In what Bush administration officials saw as an important diplomatic success, the leaders also warned Iraq to give up all weapons of mass destruction, approving a statement demanding that Iraq “comply fully and immediately” with disarmament demands in a recent U.N. resolution.

“A deadly cocktail of threats is now menacing free societies,” NATO Secretary-General George Robertson declared in opening the summit. “Terrorists and their backers, the failed states in which they flourish and proliferating weapons of mass destruction, pose a genuine threat. ... A transformed and modernized alliance is at the very heart of the free world’s response.”

The 19-nation alliance issued membership invitations to seven formerly Communist-ruled countries, including the three Baltic states that once were part of the Soviet Union, the enemy that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed to stand against.

The NATO leaders pledged Thursday to build more mobile and high-tech forces, and streamline command structures, to cope with new threats wherever they arise. They also stressed that enlargement is meant to consolidate democracy and stability in Europe, not threaten Russia.

“By welcoming seven members, we will not only add to our military capabilities, we will refresh the spirit of this great democratic alliance,” President Bush said. “We believe today’s decision reaffirms our commitment to freedom and our commitment to a Europe which is whole and free and at peace.”

The leaders’ statement on Iraq set the stage for members to contribute to a U.S.-led war effort if Iraq flouts the U.N. demands, but stopped far short of pledging NATO to fight as an alliance.

“It will be no exaggeration to compare today’s decision on the enlargement of NATO with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said.

Enlargement marks a “historic moment when Europe is finally reunited, and when Europe and North America reassert the inseparable nature of their security,” French President Jacques Chirac said.

The invitees’ leaders expressed joy that their nations would no longer feel shunned by the continent’s richer and more established democracies.

The incoming members celebrated joining what they see as not just the world’s premier security organization but also a kind of elite club that provides a stamp of democratic legitimacy and promotes full integration in Western economic and political life.

Moscow, while not pleased about NATO expansion, has muted its criticism for a variety of reasons, ranging from acceptance of the inevitable to a belief that Russia’s future lies in cooperation, not confrontation, with the rest of Europe.