Cutting the Cards on NATO

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SINTRA, Portugal: Now that Russia has reluctantly endorsed NATO expansion, members are turning to what could be the more difficult task of deciding just which countries will be the first to join the alliance. At a meeting in Portugal to determine which new members will be announced July 8-9 in Madrid, NATO foreign ministers are divided on whether the first round of NATO expansion should take in three or five of the eleven countries interested in joining. One senior NATO official said talks are stalling over whether to invite just Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic or to add Slovenia and Romania as well. While the U.S. has not publicly said which countries it is backing for membership, officials say privately that they prefer to start with just Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The reason, reports TIME's Douglas Waller, is that the U.S. wants to admit a small number in the first round so that there will still be a pool of acceptable candidates in the future. The fear is that future expansion won't be considered if all the countries that can meet NATO's membership requirements right now are admitted, meaning poorer countries like Slovakia will never be admitted. "We must pledge that the first new members will not be the last and that no European democracy will be excluded because of where it sits on the map," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the foreign ministers.