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NATO: Bush Says Russia Need Not Fear Expansion

Washington, 18 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush said in an exclusive interview that Russia has nothing to fear about NATO expanding to its borders because the alliance will create greater stability for the entire region. (Listen to Audio) Bush spoke with RFE/RL at the White House today on the eve of the NATO summit meeting in Prague this week which he will attend along with world leaders from more than 40 countries. The alliance is expected to invite into its fold seven new countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

"I do believe [the new members] can contribute something really important, and that is, they can contribute their love for freedom. These are countries which have lived in totalitarian states, they haven't been free, and now they've seen freedom and they love freedom, just like America loves freedom."

Bush said he does not now envision a formal membership in NATO for Russia. "We'll see -- time will tell [if Russia ever joins NATO formally]. The key thing is to make sure the relationship works the way it should, which really says to Russia that an expanded NATO on your border is not a threat to you or your future; as a matter of fact, it should enable you to grow peacefully."

In a wide-ranging interview, Bush also spoke about his determination to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Russia's war on Chechnya, and U.S. ties to Central Asia.

On Iraq, Bush said he would prefer to disarm Hussein peacefully but said if necessary he would lead a coalition force against Iraq.

On Chechnya, the president said Russian President Vladimir Putin has a right to protect his people against terrorism, but should respect the rights of national minorities and resolve the conflict in Chechnya peacefully.

Bush also expressed the hope that America's emerging ties with Central Asian states would help them to adopt democratic values.

Click to the link to listen to the 10-minute interview with Bush.