Washington, 5 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Leading government officials from Lithuania and Romania are in Washington this week making the case that their countries have met all the necessary criteria to join NATO.
Vytautas Landsbergis, speaker of Lithuania's parliament, gave a press briefing on his country's readiness to join NATO at RFE/RL on Thursday. He is in the U.S. on a week-long visit to promote Lithuanian-U.S. cooperation. Victor Babiuc, Romania's Defense Minister, is also in Washington and spoke to reporters at the National Press Club Thursday about his country's efforts to join the alliance. Babiuc is in Washington attending the annual conference of the Western European Union.
Landsbergis told reporters that he is encouraged by his recent talks with members of the U.S. government on NATO enlargement. He said the discussions left him convinced that the door to NATO remains open and that Lithuania will likely be the next country invited to join the alliance. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are joining NATO this spring during the first round of expansion.
Landsbergis said Lithuania hopes to hear those same reassurances publicly reiterated at the April NATO summit to be held in Washington. He said there is no reason why Lithuania should not be invited in the next wave of membership.
"In words, we are being told that we are a historical and real part of the family of Western civilization. However, when we knock on the door -- the open door -- we are left outside in the yard. And, of course, being in the yard is not as secure as being inside."
Landsbergis said he does not believe Russia will be a major obstacle to preventing Lithuania from joining NATO. He said the West was pressured not to admit Poland to NATO, but Poland will have managed to join the alliance without any obvious repercussions. He said it is unfair that Lithuania's freedom should be restricted by the will of Russia's political elite. He said as a part of NATO, Lithuania would play an important role in maintaining the stability of Europe.
"Accession of new members in NATO is a principle, not an exception or a grace. It is a process that builds security in Europe -- and that in itself should be secure and integral.
Landsbergis also said Lithuania is ready to bear the cost of NATO expansion. He said Lithuanians are well aware that maintaining security and independence is expensive, but that NATO membership remains one of the country's highest priorities.
Babiuc said Romania also expects NATO officials to make an announcement at the April summit on the next wave of candidates. He said the "credibility of the alliance would be diminished" if the door does not remain open.
Babiuc said Romania would like to see three major issues addressed at the April NATO conference.
First, Babiuc said he would like to see Romania and Slovenia named as the main candidates for the next round of membership. Second, he said a timeline should be set for the next candidates to join and invitations should be issued no later than the year 2001. Third, he said NATO should establish "concrete programs" for potential members so that it would be easier for the alliance to track their progress.
Babiuc said that as a member of NATO, Romania would help fight illegal immigration, drug and weapons trafficking and ethnic conflicts, and would work to ensure the safety of the pipelines that stretch from the Caspian Sea across Romania and into Europe.
Babiuc said Romania has largely met all the necessary criteria to join NATO. He added that arguments about the stability of Romania's economy should not be a factor.
He said: "I know there are some discussions which are not favorable for Romania regarding the economic situation. From my point of view, these comments are strange...NATO is a military and political organization. If we discuss NATO enlargement, then we have to take into consideration only the political and military criteria."
In a related development, a U.S. congressman of Slovak ancestry introduced a resolution on Wednesday in the House of Representatives calling for the admission of the Slovak Republic into the NATO military alliance.
Congressman John Mica, a Republican from the southern state of Florida, introduced the measure yesterday. It was referred to the Committee on International Relations for review.
Mica contends that Slovakia should not have been excluded from the first round of invitations to join the alliance. Slovakia had been mentioned as a possible candidate as well, but the U.S. and NATO's 15 other current members were concerned about what was seen as the repressive political climate in Slovakia under the government of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.
Meciar was voted out last fall, however, and the new government has promised to speed up economic and political reforms. Mica says the Slovak Republic has, in his words, proven its maturity and stability. He says it is critical that these advances be recognized. His resolution, should it pass, would have no legal force over NATO.