Washington, 7 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The United States believes that expanding NATO will make it easier for the European Union to take in new members from the east.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said Tuesday that is one of the reasons why the United States so vigorously promotes NATO enlargement.
He said "this is not just a matter of NATO setting an example, rather it's a matter of NATO creating an environment more peaceful and more stable that will be conducive to the European Union's expansion eastward."
Talbott spoke at a State Department conference on U.S.- European ties. More than 400 senior officials, business leaders and dignitaries from both sides of the Atlantic attended the two-day event which ended Tuesday.
The State Department says the results of the conference will be discussed at a U.S.-EU summit that President Bill Clinton will attend in the Netherlands on May 28.
Speakers at the conference Tuesday included Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, as well as Sir Leon Brittan, Vice President of the European Commission, and U.S. Congressman Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.
Talbott said that "the clearer the U.S. has been about NATO's determination to take in new members, the clearer the EU has been about its own plans to expand."
He noted that potential EU members are being asked to make many complex changes in their economic and regulatory policies.
But, quoting Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Talbott said "the security NATO provides should not have to wait until.tomato farmers in Central Europe start using the right kind of pesticides."
He said the U.S. sees NATO and EU enlargement as "two separate but parallel processes in support of the same overall cause which is building a broader, deeper transatlantic community."
Continuing this theme, Talbott spoke at some length about the controversy surrounding Turkey's application to join the European Union.
European leaders have said Turkey cannot become a full EU member until it makes progress on human rights and disputes with Greece and its Kurdish minority. That offended the Ankara government which has threatened to block NATO enlargement unless it gets full EU membership.
Talbott said the U.S. recognizes that the EU and Turkey are working hard to settle their differences. He applauded a recent EU statement that it's door is open to Turkish membership according to the same criteria applied to any other applicant.
But he criticized views opposing Turkey's EU membership because of religion, saying the United States believes there can be no divisions in the new Europe between its Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic parts.
Talbott said these kinds of divisions "fueled the war in former Yugoslavia and must have no place in the Europe we are building."
Talbott dismissed what he said is a currently popular theory that "the Cold War rivalry between capitalism and communism has been replaced by a global clash of civilizations, including one between Western and Muslim countries."
He said this kind of thinking underestimates an increasing ethnic and religious diversity in Europe as well as the United States.
He said the U.S. has a special interest in Turkey's development into a strong, secular and democratic state because of its strategic importance. He noted the country's proximity to the Middle East, as well as its historic and linguistic affinity with the Caucasus and Central Asia.
He said Turkey, like Russia, has cultural ties to the Middle East and Central Europe and that both must be included in the building of a post-Cold-War integrated Europe.
Talbott said it would be dangerous to raise barriers against the aspirations of any European nation that is willing to accept democratic standards and responsibilities.
"It underestimates the dangers we may face in the future.if we define the 'European-ness' of a village on the basis of whether its landmarks are church spires or minarets," he said.
Talbott said Secretary Albright will urge that "Europe define itself as inclusively, as expansively, as comprehensively as possible."