. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Slovakia's Hopes for NATO In Doubt

LONDON -- Slovakia is fading fast in the race among countries of Central and Eastern Europe to join NATO because of growing Western concern about human rights and political freedoms there, diplomats say.

Like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others, Slovakia wants full integration with the European Union and the 16-nation Western alliance as soon as possible, in order to guarantee future security and prosperity.

With Russia still opposed to NATO expansion, talks on which countries can join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are not expected to start until next year and no decisions have been made about who will be included.

But the issue is likely to come up next week when U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher meets foreign ministers from Central and Eastern Europe in Prague.

Diplomats say there is a growing view in the West that Slovakia will be left out of the race in which Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are the favorites.

"Slovakia is starting to fall off the map," said one Western envoy. "Things could change but not the way it looks now."

The United States and European allies have raised their concerns about Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's government on several occasions with Bratislava, but diplomats said there had been little apparent effect.

European diplomats said there was growing frustration, particularly since Meciar's cabinet put forward a draft anti-subversion law earlier this month.

The United States has openly criticized Slovakia for what Washington says are abuses concerning police behavior, minorities and media freedom.

Both the European Union and NATO have said that any potential new members must meet strict standards on such issues.

Poland and the Czech Republic are widely regarded as the most likely to enter first.

Hungary also has a good chance although some diplomats say Budapest's continued difficulties over large ethnic Hungarian minorities living in Romania and Slovakia could prompt a review.

This is more likely if Slovakia, where there are some 600,000 ethnic Hungarians, is left out of the running.