Benjamin Gilman (left), leader of the Congress delegation, chats with US Ambassador Ralph Johnson (centre).
Slovakia was excluded from the first wave of applicant countries to join the defence alliance because of the previous government's failure to respect the democratic standards required for NATO membership.
The former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Benjamin A. Gilman, told journalists he was confident progress was being made to meet the necessary political conditions to join the alliance.
"We've come away with a good feeling that they are doing a great deal to meet the criteria," said Gilman, a Republican from New York. "It is my belief that Slovakia is now set to move in the right direction on all of these issues."
The previous government of Vladimír Mečiar, defeated by a broadly based coalition in September, came under fire from the United States and the European Union over a number of issues ranging from failures to respect the constitutional court to the treatment of the 500,000 strong Hungarian minority. "Regrettably Slovakia wavered in its committment to democratic values at that time," Gilman said.
The new government has pledged to use the massive majority it gained at the elections to forge closer ties with the West, improve the country's democratic process and pass language laws for the benefit of the Hungarian minority.
Western leaders have said that Slovakia has missed out on the first wave of NATO expansion which should see the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland formally invited as members at the Washington summit in April.
Slovakia is hoping to join as part of a second wave. Gilman, who led a group of 11 U.S. congressmen on the visit to Slovakia, said there was no timetable for the next group of applicants.
"There is a feeling in the Congress that we'd like to see NATO (further) expanded," he said, but warned that Slovakia had to focus on fulfilling other NATO requirements such as a free market economy, civilian control over defence forces, the legal state, the preparation of the army and other conditions.
18. Jan 1999 at 0:00 | Reuters