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Eastern Europe: Six Countries Seek NATO Membership Despite Balkan Conflict

  • Julie Moffett



Washington, 22 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As leaders of more than 40 countries descend on Washington this week for NATO's 50th anniversary summit, six European nations aspiring to join the alliance say they remain firmly committed to seeking membership despite the Balkan conflict.

During RFE/RL interviews in Washington this week, envoys from Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were united in their conviction that the NATO operation in Yugoslavia was necessary to ensure stability in Europe.

Kalev Stoicescu, Estonia's Ambassador to the U.S., says his country is continuing to intensify its preparations for membership. The crisis in Yugoslavia has only increased his nation's desire to join the alliance, he says.

Stoicescu says it is critical that NATO remain committed to enlargement. He says while he does not expect any countries to be officially invited to join at this week's summit, he does expect NATO leaders to issue a communiqu reiterating its commitment to an open door policy.

"It is clear, as we see from the events in Kosovo, that the only way to strengthen security and keep lasting peace in Europe is when NATO will cover an entire unified Europe."

Rolandas Kacinskas, the Second Secretary at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, agrees.

He says Lithuania hopes the NATO summit will launch a new round of enlargement by inviting qualified candidates from the north and south of Europe, including Lithuania. He adds he hopes NATO officials will publicly recognize his country's progress toward membership by highlighting the progress made in the development of Lithuania's defense establishment and by the significant increase in its military spending.

"Lithuania wants to join NATO as a strong alliance which would be capable of increasing stability and security in the region."

Peteris Vinkelis, Counselor at the Embassy of Latvia in Washington, says the summit will be a chance for his country to reaffirm its desire to participate in a collective security alliance for all of Europe, and also to show its solidarity with the NATO operation in Yugoslavia.

"The situation has proven that the only reliable organization that could stop the violence, the massive human rights violations, and the worst humanitarian tragedy in Europe since World War Two, is NATO."

Bulgaria's Ambassador to the U.S., Philip Dimitrov, says the delegates at the summit will have to face a number of very important issues regarding the future of the alliance. He says his country will be closely watching how NATO defines its new strategic mission for the 21st century.

Of particular importance, he says, is that Bulgaria expects to see a "clear message" emerge from the summit in terms of future enlargement and a confirmation that integration is "but a matter of time." Dimitrov says the crisis in Yugoslavia has not deterred Bulgaria from wanting to join NATO. But he says he hopes the delegates will use the summit as an opportunity to discuss concretely what should be done in the Balkans.

"I very much hope that a vision will be expressed concerning the future stabilization of the Balkans in the form of some kind of idea or general scheme or plan -- and for the participation of all the countries in the region."

Martin Butora, Slovakia's Ambassador to the U.S. calls the NATO summit a "very important milestone both in the general history of mankind as well as in the history of NATO."

Butora says the general strategy of the Slovak delegation at the summit will be to act as if Slovakia is already a de facto ally of NATO. He says this strategy is already underway as shown by Slovakia's rapid response to allow NATO airplanes to fly over Slovak airspace for its operation against Yugoslavia.

Butora says Slovakia hopes NATO leaders will issue a "credible enlargement policy" at the summit and not let the issue of Yugoslavia completely dictate the alliance's agenda.

"I think that current catastrophe in Kosovo shouldn't overshadow the importance of what the NATO summit will in fact confirm -- the importance of the performance of NATO in the previous decades as a keeper of stability and peace in Europe and the world."

Butora says that Slovakia is prepared to be involved and incorporated into a long-term stabilization plan for the Balkan region. He says that Slovakia can be shown as a success story in the region since it "understands the connection between ethnic issues and democracy."

Butora explains: "We are convinced that without having a democratic regime, without a firm democratic rule, and without democratic rules of the game, it is very complicated to solve ethnic and national issues in a proper manner."

Romania's Ambassador to the U.S., Mircea Geoana, says the most important aspect of the summit will be the opportunity to showcase the solidarity between NATO and its partner and aspiring members in face of the crisis in Yugoslavia.

"Romania felt the need to join NATO, not only because we want to take care of our security, but also because we felt, and feel, that we can contribute to the security of that region in Europe...We do hope that the ultimate result is a democratic Serbia."

Geoana also says Romania hopes NATO leaders will "thoroughly and in a lasting way" revise the strategic concept of the alliance. That, he says, includes keeping the door open for further enlargement and a commitment that the next NATO summit will be one that includes new members.

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