Prague, 27 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. government has not made any decision yet on which countries it will support for NATO membership, according to a senior U.S. State Department official. He said President Bill Clinton has not yet received recommendations from within the government "on how to make that decision."
Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, Rudolf Perina, currently on a visit to Prague, told RFE-RL this evening that President Clinton will have to make the decision on which countries to invite.
He says the U.S. administration will not make its decision on which countries will be invited to join NATO until late spring or early summer, shortly before the NATO summit in Madrid where the invitations will be formally announced.
"We are making a point of not speculating at this time,... other allies may choose to speculate, we don't, on the chances of individual countries for NATO membership," said Perina.
Last week, French President Jacques Chirac offered strong words of support for Romania to be in the first wave of new members.
Perina says regardless of which countries are invited to join at the Madrid summit, the United States believes the door to NATO will remain open, that "expansion is a process rather than a one-time action."
"There is no limit on where this process could stop," he said adding that "all countries in Europe and partially in Europe are eligible" to join NATO.
Perina is the second highest State Department official for European Affairs. He says NATO is changing in many ways in the process of enlargement, developing ways of working more closely with countries which will not become members of the alliance, such as Russia.
Turning to Albania, Perina says Albania's ruling Democratic Party should work with the opposition, including the Socialist Party, to solve Albania's crisis. He told RFE/RL this evening the United States "would support a government of national unity to stabilize the crisis and help the people" of Albania.
He says Albania's government must find "effective means" to resolve the problem of public outrage over the collapse of speculative pyramid investment schemes.
Perina told RFE/RL the Albanian government should consider working more closely with all political forces, including the opposition Socialist Party (former communists) and "get a unified government to deal with this problem." Asked if he is calling for a coalition government with the Socialists, Perina said, he would not want to suggest that.
The U.S. official says the Albanian people want a government that is responsive to the public rather than one that is constantly bickering with the Socialists.
Perina says the United States has developed a close relationship with Albania in recent years but that problems have arisen in the past few months -- first over the manner that local elections were conducted last year and now the unrest following the collapse of the pyramid investment schemes.
Perina describes the current crisis as "a very sad and traumatic situation for the country and the people."
"We can only empathize with the people who have... lost all their money," he said.