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Western Press Review: The Baltics And NATO Expansion

  • Ron Synovitz

Prague, 17 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary examines the issue of NATO enlargement in a Baltic context. The debate includes contributions to prestigious American newspapers by Baltic officials themselves.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Lithuania seeks full membership in NATO

Lithuania's parliamentary president, Vytautas Landsbergis, appears as a guest columnist this week. In his column, Landsbergis says Lithuania's goals of full membership in NATO and the European Union are "parallel and of equal importance." Landsbergis writes: "If anybody is allowed to hinder Lithuania's coming closer to NATO, it means tomorrow there will be destabilizing impediments on our road to the European Union." He says that since his country applied for NATO membership in January 1994, Lithuanians have been told that they are not yet ready for membership. Landsbergis says: "We understood 'not ready yet' to mean 'Yes, but not now.' It was only necessary to get ready, to do our homework. Now, however, the time has come, and we believe we are ready to be full members of NATO."

Landsbergis says his country was encouraged by last month's talks in Helsinki between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton. He says that the summit meant "a change in Russian foreign policy from confrontation to cooperation. This signals not only a continuation of our liberation, but also the liberation of Russia from the imperial thinking of a dominating country." On the possibility of a special security charter between the United States and the Baltics, Landsbergis says the idea is encouraging. But he says: "Such a pact can not be an alternative to NATO membership. This kind of agreement would have to be regarded by all parties as a path toward membership in the alliance."

Landsbergis concludes that early membership in NATO for at least one Baltic country is �highly desirable." He says: "If one Baltic country is invited, the other two would also benefit. Early membership for any of the Baltic states would set a constructive precedent by breaking the existing blockage of pressure against Baltic membership and releasing tendencies toward region-wide liberalization. "In the end, Landsbergis says he is �sure that Lithuania will be admitted to NATO." But he says Vilnius must know what is planned for the near future if it does not receive an invitation at the Madrid summit this July.

WASHINGTON POST: Estonian minister supports NATO enlargement

Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Toomas Hendrik Ilves offers his opinion as a guest columnist. Ilves says that more consideration should be given to the views of 100 million Eastern and Central Europeans who will be affected by NATO expansion. Ilves writes: "The consensus within the 11 applicant countries is clear. From Tallinn to Ljubljana, it is accepted that NATO enlargement is a fitting conclusion to the Cold War, an integrative, unifying step in European affairs and a key move toward guaranteeing Euro-Atlantic stability." The Estonian minister says eastern Europe's "unanimity" on the issue is not because of any impending threat. He says: "NATO membership offers security and political benefits that cannot be obtained by acting individually. NATO has enlarged three times before and it should do so again." Ilves concludes that: "The real choice in NATO enlargement is between extending the stability that Western Europe has enjoyed for a half-century to the whole continent (or) creating a new zone of instability for an uncertain future."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: German general concerned with Russia�s nuclear disarmament

Today's edition carries a report on the views of a leading NATO committee chairman. German General Klaus Naumann says that Russia must take steps to promote transparency in regard to its tactical nuclear disarmament program. Of particular concern to Naumann is the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad, which shares direct borders with Poland and Lithuania but is geographically cut off from the rest of Russia. Naumann says that the area has "an extremely dense military presence." On other matters, Naumann says that it will be necessary to modernize the military infrastructure, including joint air defense, in all countries that are invited to join the alliance. The general says: "New members need not fear that they will become second-class NATO states." He says the alliance will adhere to the principle of collective defense.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yeltzin�s advisors concerned with NATO

Another report in today's paper examines the Russian viewpoint on NATO and the Baltics. The newspaper notes that Yeltsin�s advisors view Baltic aspirations for NATO membership as a great threat. The report says: "In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania there are politicians who question the status of (Kaliningrad). If the Baltic states are accepted in NATO, then Europe can fall back into the confrontation." The newspaper concludes that Russia also sees NATO expansion as a threat to its position on the international arms market.

Russia And Eastern Europe

Western newspaper commentary today also examines foreign policy issues for Russia, as well as the role of international financial institutions in eastern Europe.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Germany and Russia divided over bilateral agreements

Talks in Baden-Baden today between Yeltsin and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl are the subject of an opinion piece by Josef Riedmiller in today's Suddeutsche Zeitung. Riedmiller says geography guarantees that Germany and Russia will "forever have a relationship that gravitates toward each other." He says this relationship will continue after the expansion of NATO. But Riedmiller warns that the quarrel between Germany and Russia over war booty art treasures "plays a big role" in bilateral relations. He says: "There is not much room for a rational solution.... The political explosiveness of this matter lies in ignoring the people's rights and bilateral agreements.... The situation builds mistrust." He concludes that "the voluntary application of rights and agreements unfortunately has no tradition in Russia. There is fear that legal matters are not taken all that seriously in the Kremlin."

HEARST NEWSPAPERS: EU concerned with Iran

Bernard Kaplan, of the Hearst Newspapers chain, writes an opinion piece today about Iran's relations with Western Europe and Russia. All 15 EU-member countries have withdrawn diplomats from Iran after a German court ruled last week that Tehran had ordered killings within Germany. But Kaplan writes: "Whatever their official gestures, Europe's political body language has already made it clear that the Iranians can continue -literally- to get away with murder as long as they keep on beefing up the profits of European companies with hefty contracts." Kaplan says German won't implement an economic embargo against Tehran because Bonn is worried that France might step into the gap. Kaplan concludes: "Past experience ought to have taught the Germans and other Europeans that nothing is ever gained by attempting to placate the extremist Islamic regime in Tehran.... But standing up to the Iranians would mean abandoning any chance in the foreseeable future of those juicy export deals."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Iran moves closer to Russia

A commentary by Bruce Clark notes that Iran is trying to counter-balance its isolation from the West by moving closer to Russia. Clark says Washington's policies have "already damaged U.S. interests by frustrating U.S. efforts to gain access to energy resources in Central Asia." Calling Iran "the geographical key to exporting large amounts of oil" from Caspian reserves, Clark says U.S. policy has "hampered efforts to wean the new Central Asian republics away from Russian influence."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Bulgaria proves need for international economic envolvement

Correspondent Jon Marks writes a news analysis today arguing for continued international involvement in the emerging markets of the former Communist world. Marks says an upturn in Bulgaria's fortunes during the past two months "underlines the continued importance of co-ordinated intervention." He says agreement between Sofia's anti-communist caretaker cabinet and the International Monetary Fund has "brought Bulgaria back from the brink of collapse." Marks says the start of economic reforms together with a currency stabilization program would have been impossible "without the removal of the ex-communist Bulgarian Socialist Party government and a realization abroad that something had to be done about Bulgaria." But Marks warns Sofia that it has "much to do before it graduates from being seen as an 'exotic' market and can join the growing number of economies in central and eastern Europe in securing tighter (credit) terms." Marks says Russia is one example of a country with an increasing supply of external credit.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Russia experiences delays in construction of international space station

An editorial this week says a one-year delay in construction of an international space station is "irritating." But the newspaper says it is bewildered by the Clinton administration's determination to keep Moscow as a partner, despite the fact that the delay was caused by Russia's failure to meet its obligations in the project. The newspaper complains about transfers of $300 million from the U.S. space shuttle program to pay for work on the space station in Russia and the United States during the next two years. The Tribune quotes U.S. Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner (Rep-Wisc) as complaining: "We're building the space station to do science and open new commercial frontiers... not to provide foreign aid." The Tribune concludes that Clinton is "walking a precarious line between nursing the Russians and igniting a taxpayer revolt if Moscow's problems run up the project's cost... Aborting would be a shame. Man is close to having a stepping-stone to space -- an exciting prospect that should be realized, with or without Russia."

(Translation from German texts by Dora Slaba.)