Central and Eastern European political leaders gathered today in the Polish capital Warsaw at a conference dedicated to coordinating measures in the global war on terrorism.
Prague, 6 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush delivered the keynote speech via satellite link to the antiterrorism conference in the Polish capital.
Bush invoked the ghost of communism, comparing Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and Al-Qaeda -- the terrorist network of Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden -- to the authoritarian regimes that had once ruled the former Eastern bloc.
"For more than 50 years, the peoples of your region suffered under repressive ideologies that tried to trample human dignity," Bush said. "Today, our freedom is threatened once again. Like the fascists and totalitarians before them, these terrorists -- Al-Qaeda, the Taliban regime that supports them, and other terrorist groups across our world -- try to impose their radical views through threats and violence."
Bush emphasized the need to build a common front to take on terrorism. He commended those leaders from Central and Eastern Europe in attendance, calling them "partners in the fight against terrorism."
In opening the conference, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said one response to the increased threat from terrorism should be a speedier enlargement of both the European Union and NATO. Kwasniewski said the leaders gathered in Warsaw have a "chance as a region to present solutions that may serve as a model for other regions."
Leaders from 17 Central and Eastern European nations -- Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, and Macedonia -- attended today's conference.
Four other countries -- Russia, the United States, Belarus, and Turkey -- sent observers. Delegations were also sent by the United Nations, NATO, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Kwasniewski's national security adviser, Marek Siwiec, said it was expected that the conference would produce what he called a "political declaration," an "action plan" of challenges or obligations for participating states in combating terrorism.
Slovak President Rudolf Schuster summed up the purpose of the conference by telling those gathered that, "We are meeting to move from pledges to deeds, to agree on common courses in fighting terrorism."
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic said terrorism must be fought immediately and that, "There is no time to wait -- investigate the causes and roots of terrorism."
Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said a UN fund needs to be established to cover the cost of antiterrorism activities. He also said Russia -- which supports the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan -- is ready to tinker with its legislation in an effort to further thwart terrorism.
Rushailo said Moscow's military campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya is now being seen more as an operation against an internal terrorist threat and less as a war against Chechen separatists or freedom fighters.
On the eve of the conference, Rushailo had said: "It cannot be the case that people who stage attacks on some countries are called terrorists, while others who attack different countries are called freedom fighters."
Rushailo also said Russia has evidence linking Chechen rebels to Al-Qaeda and pointed out that the sources of financing are the same.
The conference is also expected to focus heavily on the issue of money laundering, as well as drugs and arms trafficking. U.S. antiterrorism Ambassador Francis Taylor told the conference that preventing terrorist groups from raising funds is an "absolutely critical priority."
In a letter to Kwasniewski expressing his support for the conference, British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised regional leaders for dovetailing their antiterrorism measures with those of the EU.
That assessment was echoed in October by the EU's enlargement commissioner, Gunter Verheugen: "I know that some [EU] candidate countries have already produced some very far-reaching packages of measures against terrorism. And these measures are fully in line with the strategy which we have developed here."
Correspondents say many of the leaders gathered in Warsaw -- some of whom are said to feel shunted aside in the current campaign against terrorism -- are eager to show they have a role to play in the international crisis.
The Czech Republic has offered troops to the U.S.-led military campaign. Plans are said to be underway to send some 300 Czech soldiers from an elite chemical warfare unit to either Afghanistan or a neighboring country, perhaps Uzbekistan.
A report yesterday in "The Wall Street Journal" quoted unnamed high-ranking U.S. officials as saying a Polish unit will be dispatched to Afghanistan to aid the antiterrorism campaign. Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz denies that report.
Providing support during the present crisis could have benefits for countries seeking closer integration with the West. Michael Emerson is a senior research fellow at the Brussels-based Center for Foreign Policy Studies. Shortly after the 11 September attacks, Emerson said he believes they could end up serving as a catalyst to speed up EU integration: "Whenever there is major instability on the edge of Europe, the political case for going ahead with these acts of consolidating the European political structures is, of course, underlined and strengthened."
The shift in attitude among the EU's top officials toward enlargement can be gauged from the remarks of the EU's Verheugen.
On 5 September, Verheugen delivered what our correspondent had described as a gloomy speech on EU enlargement to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Verheugen noted that the EU conference in Gothenburg in June had affirmed that leading candidate countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were less than 18 months away from wrapping up accession talks. But he dwelled on the roadblocks that remained, including institutional reform of the EU and a referendum in Ireland over the summer that essentially rejected expansion.
Two weeks later, and more than a week after the September attacks in the U.S., Verheugen had a very different tone. He said the events in the United States had "changed everything." As for enlargement talks, Verheugen said the events of 11 September would have a "positive effect" on EU enlargement.