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The NATO allies Tuesday welcomed 10 former Soviet republics into a special forum that will give one-time adversaries a chance to air security concerns.

The unprecedented meeting of nearly three dozen foreign ministers at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization immediately turned its attention to the bloody ethnic conflict between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan.Secretary of State James A. Baker III said measures should be considered to halt the fighting in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave mainly populated by Armenians but controlled by Azerbaijan.

"Additional steps by all of us and the international community may be needed to respond to the violence and bring it to an end," he said in prepared remarks. "There is no glory in leaving widows and orphans to build the democratic, free-market societies that should be the paramount priority."

NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner said the other nations appealed to the warring states to cease fighting and allow medical and other aid to be sent to residents.

He also suggested that NATO soldiers could someday be used as peacekeepers for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 48-nation group drawing together North American and European nations.

The idea was raised by Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, who did not specifically link the proposal to Nagorno-Karabakh.

However, the NATO allies and their new partners backed proposals by Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of Germany for the Conference on Security and Cooperation to try to solve the dispute in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier of Czechoslovakia, whose country holds the conference's rotating presidency, was to meet later with his counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan.

With membership in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council expanded to 19, Baker and other Western foreign ministers crowded around the NATO conference table with their counterparts from the former Soviet state.

"This meeting provides living proof of our determination to make Europe grow together and to build a Euro-Atlantic community," Woerner said.


(Additional information)

No U.S. recognition - yet

Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Tuesday the United States is ready to talk about the breakaway Yugoslav republics but would not immediately recognize them as independent nations.

Baker requested a meeting Tuesday with Economic Community foreign ministers amid indications from U.S. officials that the United States was reassessing its policy on recognizing the republics.

However, Baker told reporters Tuesday: "Let me dispel any suggestion that the meeting today was called for the purpose of concluding recognition."

He said discussing the status of the republics would be a key part of the meeting, but the United States would not recognize any republic within hours.

The 12 EC nations already have recognized Slovenia and Croatia. Recognition by the United States would cement their standing in the international community and could give them access to more international aid.