Copenhagen, Feb 22 (RFE/RL) - The European Union (EU) and NATO should enlarge to encompass former Communist countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Republics "the sooner, the better," says Denmark's former Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann Jensen.
Jensen says, "It should be made absolutely clear to Russia that Moscow will not be given veto privileges in NATO decisions." But he adds, "the West should persuade Moscow that NATO is a defensive and not an aggressive organisation. which does not seek to endanger anyone's security."
Jensen, now leader of the largest opposition party in Denmark, was interviewed this week in Copenhagen by a RFE/RL correspondent.
Jensen says that for many years Soviet propaganda portrayed NATO as a "big, evil monster." But he says that perhaps the kind of cooperation among U.S., European and Russians troops in the Balkans "will help dissolve the distrust."
Jensen admits that when Nato's "Partnership for Peace" Program was first introduced, he opposed it, saying Nato enlargement should not be delayed, but should take place immediately. But now, he says he sees, the "Partnership" Program has developed into "a very useful preparatory instrument for Central and Eastern Europe."
Jensen says U.S. engagement with Europe is one of the continent's prime sources of stability. But he says "in order to maintain U.S. interest in Europe, we need to strengthen our own commitment and responsibility."
Jensen says he is "deeply disappointed" by President Boris Yeltsin's handling of the Chechenya conflict, but admits that, prior to Russia's presidential election in June, some of the other alternatives are "rather frightening." And Jensen says, "I believe we must continue the dialogue with Russia, and the more engagement we give it in international bodies (such as the Council of Europe), the more possibilities for dialogue," says Jensen.
Jensen calls the attitude of the West toward the Chechnya conflict counter-production, and in some cases, hypocritical. For example, he says, how can you tell Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that their citizenship requirements are not their internal affair, while seeming "to understand" as russian forces "carpet bomb" Grozny.
According to Jensen, the West should be spending much more money than it has so far on helping Russia and Eastern Europe build democracy. But, he says, "we must keep our fingers pointed at whomever is responsible for war crimes and the abuse of human rights, including through economic and political boycotts."
Jensen finds the possible return of Communists to power in Russia, and Eastern Europe's post-communist experience "frightening." But - without being more specific - he says, "there are great differences from 'former Communists' to 'former Communists'."
For the disenchantment in Eastern Europe and the former USSR with reforms, Jensen places much of the blame on the West, saying Eastern Europe should have been quickly integrated into European structures. He again asserts that the only plausible way to "give some hope" to Eastern Europe is to enlarge the EU and NATO as soon as possible. "We can only expect Central and Eastern Europe to develop up to Western standards as a member of the Western community," says Jensen.
According to Mr. Jensen, the West is concerned as much about stability in Central and Eastern Europe as it is about the quality of democracy there. "You can't have stability without stable democracy. The stability of the Cold War was fragile and transient," he says.
Jensen was Denmark's Foreign Minister from 1982 to 1993. He was the first high-ranking European official to visit the Baltic States after they regained their independence, and the Baltic States have maintained an especially close relationship with Denmark since.
Jensen recalls that diplomatic relations with the three Baltic states were re-established one day after the failed coup in Moscow in 1991. "The first new Danish Ambassador arrived in Riga on the following Monday," recalls Jensen.