Washington, 16 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Senators inquiring into State Department nominees for top jobs dealing with Russia and other countries in the region have expressed concern that non-Russian states get fair treatment from the United States.
Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) said Tuesday that U.S. foreign policy does not properly support the independence and sovereignty of every state that has emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union.
He attributed this in part to a historical habit of viewing events through Moscow's perspective and said an effort must be made to change the U.S. approach. "Our policies must first and foremost emphasize the right of every state to retain its independence and the right to reject efforts by larger states to extend a sphere of influence," Gordon said.
He made the statement at the start of a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to confirm the appointments of Marc Grossman as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, Stephen Sestanovich as Special Adviser and Coordinator for the newly independent states, and James Collins as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, as well as John Kornblum nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to Germany.
Panel members praised Kornblum and Collins as being excellent choices for the posts. They are experienced diplomats, speak German and Russian respectively and have already served at U.S. embassies in those countries.
Collins said an important aspect of his work will be the whole area of law enforcement. He said a new expert team has formed at the U.S. embassy in Moscow that is developing close cooperation on crime and law enforcement issues with Russian authorities.
Asked about a religious bill recently approved by the Russian parliament and sent to president Boris Yeltsin for consideration, Collins condemned it, saying "it would be a step backward for Russia... and would have negative consequences for our relations."
He said the U.S. supports expanding freedoms in Russia and other countries in the region. The bill places severe restrictions on all religious groups except the Russian Orthodox Church.
Collins said the U.S. is trying to ensure that all in Russia who have a voice in the matter understand the negative consequences for freedom of religion and expression of passing this law.
Smith, who presided over the hearing, said Committee members are in full accord with this approach.
He and others on the panel, Democrats as well as Republicans reserved the toughest questions for Sestanovich, asking him to explain articles and analyses he has written over the past three years opposing NATO expansion and seeming to support a Russian sphere of influence over the area of the former Soviet Union.
Sestanovich said his views have been misunderstood, especially his references to the historical example of Finland.
He said that in the Soviet era, Finland was a state that managed to genuinely expand its sovereignty and independence while the independence of states within the Soviet Union remained nominal.
Choosing his words carefully, Sestanovich said "the kind of influence that Russia exerts over states in its neighborhood will be a crucial ingredient in U.S. policy toward them and in the world's judgment about whether Russia is becoming a normal, legitimate power."
In an oblique reference to the Baltic states, Sestanovich said no country in the region should feel constrained by Russia in its choice of defensive alliances. He said he supports U.S. policy aimed at increasing the freedom of choice for states on Russia's borders.
He added that he does "not believe that Russia deserves a paramount position over these states."
Asked about his well-known opposition to NATO expansion, Sestanovich admitted he had been, as he put it "a skeptic" because he was afraid the U.S. would not succeed in simultaneously integrating Central Europe into western institutions and drawing the states of the former Soviet Union into cooperative relationships with the West. "My fear was that we'd end up serving one (goal) at the expense of the other," he said.
But Sestanovich said the U.S. has managed to serve both interests in a balanced way and he feels able now to support this kind of policy.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider each nomination and vote on whether to accept or reject it in a recommendation to the full Senate which holds a final vote on the matter.
A congressional aide said the Committee vote might come at the next business meeting before the end of the week but she said the nominations have not been scheduled yet on the Senate calendar.