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    NEW COUNTRIES TO JOIN NATO IN APRIL 2 GALA, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL SAYS TO RUSSIA'S FOREIGN MINISTER

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    BRUSSELS, MARCH 17 (RIA Novosti correspondent Alexander Shishlo) - NATO will accept new members in a Brussels ceremony of April 2, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO Secretary General, said to Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, over the phone today, announces Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman.

    Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are automatically joining the NATO-Russia Council on the day of their formal acceptance to the alliance.

    The NATO Secretary General also informed Mr. Lavrov about NATO starting air patrolling of the three post-Soviet Baltic countries. The arrangement will take mutual interests into due consideration, and NATO vouches to closely comply with its available understandings with Russia, he reassured.

    The telephone conversation initiative belonged to Mr. de Hoop Scheffer. He intends to visit Moscow, and regards today's talk as a kind of mutual introduction.

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