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Slovak Diplomats Upbeat About NATO Invitation

(Washington, DC--June 28, 2002) Two senior Slovak diplomats said in a RFE/RL briefing Thursday that their country has made steady progress in qualifying for NATO membership since the Washington NATO summit of April 1999, and are optimistic about receiving an invitation to join the North Alliance at the Prague summit in November.

Ivan Korcok, Director General for Security and International Organizations at the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Peter Burian, the Slovak Ambassador to NATO, said the Slovak Republic is implementing major reforms of its military as a result of its NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), which serves as both a framework and a yearly progress report.

The reforms include downsizing the military from 44,000 to 24,000 soldiers, fully abolishing conscription by 2006; transforming its structure to smaller, more flexible and mobile units; expanding the proportion of non-commissioned officers; as well as establishing the procedures required to safeguard classified information needed for NATO operations. Burian added that the parliament has been very supportive of Slovakia's NATO membership efforts, adopting legislation needed to allow Slovakia to operate within NATO.

In answer to questions posed during the briefing on whether the results of the upcoming parliamentary election might hinder Slovakia's chances for acceptance by NATO, Korcok said it will be "up to the 19 NATO governments to decide whether the Slovak government is credible for them." He also pointed out that, according to recent opinion polls, roughly 61 percent of Slovaks support the idea of NATO membership.

Korcok also made it clear that, with or without a NATO invitation, Slovakia will pursue the reforms outlined by the MAP because they are beneficial for the state. "There will be no complacency on our side," he stressed.

At the upcoming NATO summit in Prague, Korcok said, alliance officials expect a "robust enlargement with from five to seven candidates invited to join." Currently there are ten countries actively seeking membership: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.