Warsaw, 1 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Javier Ruperez, the Spanish president of the North Atlantic Assembly, yesterday praised Russia's contribution to diplomatic efforts to end the Kosovo crisis.
He also said European countries which are NATO members must strengthen their military capabilities in order to reduce their dependence on the United States.
Ruperez made the comments at a session of the North Atlantic Assembly now being held in the Polish parliament in Warsaw. The assembly is NATO's chief consultative forum, made up largely of parliamentarians from all of its 19 member states.
Ruperez said that he welcomed "the contribution of the Russian government, through its special envoy, former Prime Minister [Viktor] Chernomyrdin, to securing the acceptance by [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic of the peace plan presented to him by the international community." Despite differences in view between Moscow and the West, the two sides have "no other choice but to work together on finding a solution to the crisis."
Ruperez also said NATO's presence in southeastern Europe was vital for the stability of the continent.
He added that "looking beyond Kosovo, if NATO is serious about its claims to be the pillar of Europe's security and stability, there are strong arguments for placing southeastern Europe at the top of its enlargement agenda." A stronger NATO presence in the region, he said, would build "an arc of stability from the Adriatic to the Black Sea."
According to Ruperez, accelerating NATO entry for Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia and maybe Slovakia would create an incentive for countries for whom membership in the Alliance is a more distant prospect--such as Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Croatia. He said the acceleration of NATO enlargement in this direction would speed up needed reforms in the Balkans.
Ruperez said that, through expansion, "NATO would form a belt of security around the two remaining problematic states of the region, Yugoslavia and Bosnia." He went on to say that the two "would be stabilized by a strong international presence and would hopefully be caught by the democratic reform spirit."
Ruperez noted, too, that an emphasis on a new direction for possible NATO expansion does not lessen the Alliance's commitment to the Baltic states which desire to join the organization.
He also said Europe's military performance in Kosovo remains "far below what was expected."
He stated that though 13 countries are involved in the current operations air strikes against Yugoslavia, "70 percent of the strikes are American." He added that "the Europeans are undoubtedly playing a major supporting role, but their strategic dependence on the Americans is glaringly obvious."
Ruperez stressed that European countries must beef up their military capabilities. He said "our American friends...are now much more ready to leave real security responsibilities to the Europeans, which require rightly encouraging us to do more to provide our own defense."
In his address to the assembly session yesterday, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said NATO must show its determination to make Milosevic halt his military machinery. That's the only way, he said, to end the conflict in Kosovo.
Buzek supported an economic stabilization pact for the Balkans, saying that Poland wants to play a major role in it. He added Poland could teach the countries in the region how to foster democracy and also take part in the implementation of economic projects.