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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Nato hopefuls knock on door
Participants at the Bratislava summit
Nine countries could join Nato as early as 2002
By the BBC's Stephen Dalziel

Prime ministers of would-be Nato members are set to produce a declaration calling for increased efforts to expand Nato.

The leaders are meeting in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, to discuss European security issues.

The summit was opened on Friday morning by the Slovak Prime Minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, who called for closer ties between the USA and Europe.

The 10 Central and East European countries represented in Bratislava fall into two unofficial groups.

Nine of them believe that they are already well on the way to Nato membership.

They have high hopes that they will be able to persuade the Alliance of this at the next Nato summit in the Czech capital, Prague, in November next year.

Making the case

These are the three Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia, as well as the host country of this meeting, Slovakia.

The tenth - Croatia - set out on the road to possible membership after the others, and is thought unlikely to be in a position to join by the end of 2002.

In any case, Nato officials repeatedly make it clear that no-one is guaranteed membership.

They insist that there could be anything "from none to nine" new members come the end of the Prague summit.

Opening the meeting, Mr Dzurinda said that the enlargement of Nato would make Europe more secure.

The Baltics

He cited the agreement by Bulgaria and Romania to allow Nato overflights during the Kosovo crisis in 1999 - despite popular opposition - as an example of existing co-operation with the Alliance.

The most contentious issue remains the potential membership of the Baltic States, to which Russia is vehemently opposed.

As Mr Dzurinda was addressing the conference in Bratislava, in Moscow the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was meeting the Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Adrian Severin.

Mr Putin told him that Russia sees the OSCE as "the key organisation" in maintaining European stability.

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See also:

16 Mar 99 | Europe
New members join Nato's top table
13 Mar 99 | Europe
Nato's brothers in arms
13 Mar 99 | Europe
Concerns over Nato expansion
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