The United States told the new Slovak government on January 22 that its performance since taking power in October had put the country on track to qualify for membership in NATO and other Western institutions.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan that his country, after years without reform, was reclaiming "its rightful place" in Europe and the world. "A year ago ... I feared Slovakia could become a hole in the map of Europe. Today, after just three months of the new government, such fears are rapidly receding," she said, speaking at a joint news conference with Kukan.
"I reiterated U.S. support for Slovakia's aspirations to join NATO, the European Union and the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development)," she said.
"With respect to NATO, the United States is convinced the Slovak nation is committed to the reforms required... If Slovakia continues these reforms and keeps improving its relations with its neighbours, no one should doubt that it will be a strong candidate," she added.
The Czech Republic, the other half of the old Czechoslovakia, is joining NATO this year under the first stage of NATO's eastward expansion. Slovakia did not qualify because of the authoritarian policies of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who lost parliamentary elections in September and was replaced by the current premier, Mikuláš Dzurinda.
Kukan said he came to Washington to show the new face of Slovakia. "The new government has already shown its clear determination to fulfil its foreign policy goals - the integration of Slovakia into European transatlantic structures," the minister added.
"Slovakia wants to be a reliable partner for our partners in those organisations," he said.
Questioned by Slovak reporters on the obstacles to quicker NATO membership, Albright cited institutional structures, language training and "interoperability" - the need for compatibility with NATO in areas such as equipment.
"There has been a missing time here that needs to be caught up. But the current Slovak government knows what needs to be done. It's on the right track," she added.
1. Feb 1999 at 0:00