NICE, France -- An alliance created to strengthen Western European nations by bringing them together has taken a major step toward embracing the former communist countries of the East.
Leaders of the 15-nation European Union agreed Monday to overhaul the organization's treaty to enable it to take in up to a dozen newcomers in the years ahead, most of them from the former Soviet bloc that for decades stretched to the continent's heart.
The agreement -- reached after four full days of frank discussions and a final all-night push -- will allow the EU to "honor its commitment to admit the candidate nations" and complete the post-Cold War reunification of Europe, said French President and summit chairman Jacques Chirac.
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