OPENING STATEMENT

                        (Open Session)

     -    I wish everybody a good morning and extend a warm
          welcome to you all.  I am pleased to see that there
          are many familiar faces around the table.  However, I
          would like to welcome in particular those Ministers
          and Representatives who are attending a meeting in
          this house for the first time.  I would also like to
          make a special mention of the fact that the Czech
          Republic and Slovakia are represented for the first
          time in this forum of Defence Ministers. 

     -    Almost a year ago to the day, Alliance Defence
          Ministers met for the first time with their
          counterparts from co-operation countries.  Since then
          the security environment in Europe has continued to
          change rapidly, unfortunately not always in a positive
          direction.  This underlines the importance of the
          Alliance's new role of projecting stability towards
          Central and Eastern Europe.  The process of co-
          operation, of which today's meeting is an important
          symbol, makes a key contribution towards this aim.  

     -    At our last meeting we issued a statement in which
          Defence Ministers undertook to play their full part in
          the process of dialogue, partnership and co-operation. 
          In particular we agreed on a range of specific co-
          operative activities in the defence area and we
          identified possible topics for further co-operation. 

     -    Since then, the number of co-operation activities have
          multiplied to an impressive degree.  The projects we
          have undertaken now run into several hundreds.  Today,
          in taking stock of progress over the last year, we
          will discuss how to build further on this successful
          start and in particular how we can make even more
          effective use of our collective resources.

     -    One area to which we will need to pay particular
          attention is peacekeeping.  Against the background of
          the range of crises which have developed in and around
          Europe it is clear that peacekeeping in the broad
          sense has become an important instrument for conflict
          prevention and crisis management.  Within the
          framework of the North Atlantic Co-operation Council
          we have developed a number of practical proposals for
          co-operation on a range of peacekeeping issues.  An
          important aspect of today's meeting will be a
          discussion of the contribution Defence Ministers can
          make to this process.

     -    As I indicated earlier, it has been a year since we
          first met in this forum.  I am therefore looking
          forward in particular to hearing the views of our co-
          operation partners both on these topics and on the
          wider security issues with which we are confronted. 
          I am sure that today's meeting will underline the
          important role of Defence Ministers in encouraging the
          development of security and stability in Europe. 

     -    May I now ask our friends from the Press and media to
          leave us.