THE ROAD TO PRAGUE AND NATO PASSES VIA SOFIA
Bulgaria received an unique chance to host the Spring Session of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly (May 24-28), only several months before the Alliance Summit in Prague.The assembly's plenary session will be attended by President Georgi Purvanov, Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Foreign Minister Solomon Passy. Hosting the assembly provides a good occasion for the Bulgarian statesmen to present once again their geopolitical and military arguments in favour of Bulgaria's candidacy for membership in the Alliance. It is expected that the delegations of the formed Balkan quartet for NATO (Romania and Bulgaria - Greece and Turkey) will again demonstrate joint efforts for strengthening the southern flank of the Alliance. The session will approve a closing declaration in support of NATO's enlargement. Under the draft document, the heads of states and the governments of NATO member countries will be asked to extend an invitation to those candidates, which are believed to be ready for membership in the Alliance and could contribute to the stability of the Northatlantic area.NATO's enlargement, struggle against terrorism, and relations between the Alliance and Russia, will top the agenda of discussions during the four days of the assembly, to be held in the National Palace of Culture (NDK). Bruce Jackson, Chairman of the US Committee for NATO's Enlargement, will be the principle speaker on the issue of NATO's transformation. This is the second visit to Bulgaria of the head of one of the most influential lobbyist organisations in the US. Norway's Foreign Minister Jan Petersen will present to the participants in the forum an analysis of the relations between NATO and Russia. It is indicative that at the same time the presidents of NATO members and the Russian Head of State Vladimir Putin will sign in Rome a joint document for the establishment of a new council NATO - Russia.NATO's Parliamentary Assembly (initially known as North Atlantic Assembly) was set up in 1955 as an interparliamentary forum of NATO member countries from North America and Western Europe. The assembly essentially changed its members after the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its sessions are already attended by representatives of 17 associated countries as well. Thus, in addition to parliamentarians from the 19 NATO member countries and of the seven most probable Alliance members - Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, the debates during the session in Sofia will be attended by deputies from Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Russia, the Ukraine, Georgia, etc.The forum in Sofia is being held just a week after the meeting of NATO Partner Foreign Ministers in Reykjavik, Iceland (May 14-15), where an emphatic signal for the future enlargement of the Alliance was given. The candidates for NATO-membership from the East are hopeful after the debates in Iceland's capital. Only a year ago it was not at all certain there would be a second wave of NATO enlargement, but in Reykjavik the candidates received from the US Secretary of State Colin Powell quite a clear indication that they would be invited to join the Alliance. According to the statement of the first diplomat in the administration of the US President George W. Bush, the admittance of new members in NATO would be implicit and without transition periods. Moreover, before the the meeting in mid-May it was considered that some of the candidate countries (even if invited) would get a formal schedule for joining the North Atlantic Pact. In Reykjavik, however, it became clear that the individual contracts with the countries that have recieved an invitation would be signed not later that in the spring of 2003. But together with this, Bulgaria was clearly warned not to lag behind in its reforms till November when the final decision would be made. Thus, the road to getting an invitation for NATO-membership in Prague mandatorily passes through Bulgaria's good presentation at the Sofia forum.