Hungary, a reluctant member of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, might even join NATO in the future, according to Foreign Minister Gyula Horn. Horn said the principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, in which 35 nations agreed on the borders of European countries and laid down minimum human rights standards, should be expanded and turned gradually into obligations.
"This may bring forth a new attitude and, in this framework, it cannot even be excluded that Hungary joins NATO," the state news agency MTI quoted him as saying at a public debate Tuesday.
Western diplomats expressed surprise at Horn's comments, which seemed to mark a departure from the previous Hungarian view that both military alliances should be dissolved and that Hungary had a long-term desire for neutrality.
But they cautioned that they may have been made with one eye on March 25 elections, Hungary's first national multiparty poll since 1947. "Remarks like this could take the wind out of the opposition's sails," said one.
At a debate entitled "Will European History Start Again?" Horn said Europe could develop a new collective system of defense and security and that this would transform both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
"The road to this leads, among other things, through the establishment of closer ties between Hungary and the various NATO organizations, first of all the political ones," he said.
But Hungary and NATO could draw closer "only step by step," he said. "Hungary will not join NATO tomorrow," he added.
Budapest is negotiating with Moscow for the full withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. Ferenc Somogyi, one of Horn's deputies, said Tuesday the two sides would meet Wednesday and by mid-March sign an accord on a timetable of withdrawal.
The Soviet Union last year withdrew 10,000 of the 65,000 troops it had stationed in Hungary since crushing the 1956 uprising.