By Lisa McAdams and Jeremy Bransten
Prague, 23 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Romanian President Emil Constantinescu says national pride is the primary force behind his country's wish to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). "All we are asking for is the firm and clear recognition of our progress," Constantinescu said on the sidelines of a five-day NATO workshop today at Prague Castle.
Constantinescu said the Romanian people widely support the country's bid for membership and will be "deeply disappointed" if they did not gain first-round entry at next month's NATO summit in Madrid. He also said Romanians would see the United States as "cynical" and "incapable of analyzing global interest" if they witheld membership until a later date.
Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are widely expected to be the only three countries invited to join NATO in the first wave of expansion.
According to Constantinescu, Romania began its campaign for membership from fear, a need of security, and not wanting to be left behind in a "grey zone" in Europe. However, he said in the years since, Romania now "stands ready to be not only a security consumer, but a security provider (as well)."
To that end, he reiterated arguments that Romania has made all the required political, military and economic changes necessary for membership. He also said Romania could bring something to the Alliance as well, in the form of strong regional relationships with Serbia and Bulgaria in NATO's southern flank and with the Baltics to the north, for example.
The Romanian President also reiterated that Russia has no reason to fear an enlarged NATO. He also sought to assure the Baltic states that their chances for NATO membership would not lessen if they failed in their first-round attempts.
Meanwhile, at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said today that his country "fully supports" Washington's decision to begin the first wave of NATO enlargement with Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
But he cautioned that the alliance's eastward expansion must not stop until all the Baltic states are included.
Birkavs said "fully-fledged" membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO remain Latvia's "supreme aim." And according to Birkavs, the sooner the process of NATO enlargement is begun, the better Latvia's chances for eventual membership. The Latvian Foreign Minister called on NATO members to send a "very clear message" about the alliance's intention to continue expanding during next month's Madrid summit. Birkavs repeated that Riga is "ready to bear the full costs, responsibilities and risk of membership in the alliance."
On the subject of the EU, Birkavs said that Latvia's small size and population of just 2.5 million have enabled the Baltic nation to rapidly restructure its economy. He noted that only the Czech Republic and Slovenia currently have better credit ratings than Latvia. Birkavs called on the EU to offer all applicants a "common starting line" rather than limiting the number of countries allowed to begin membership negotiations.