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NATO: Czech President Havel Hails 'Turning Point' For Alliance

  • Jeremy Bransten

Czech President Vaclav Havel said today that the NATO summit, which is due to open in Prague on 21 November, will mark a turning point for the alliance, as it prepares to meet the challenges of a post-Cold War and post-11 September world.

Prague, 19 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Havel, speaking today at a news conference ahead of this week's NATO summit, said the anticipated expansion of the 53-year-old alliance to include seven new members marked an "important" step. "This summit should signify a very important step in the transformation of this alliance, in defining its new identity in a new, changed world. This is something that has influenced all of the documents that have been or are currently being prepared. This will be the main topic of discussions," Havel said.

Havel, speaking at Prague Castle, answered questions on topics ranging from relations with Russia to the possibility of a third wave of expansion.

The Czech president, whose own country joined NATO in 1999, reaffirmed his support for the alliance's further enlargement. Havel said he expected the seven countries to be issued invitations to join NATO at the Prague summit but he voiced support for the membership aspirations of several states that are not expected to be invited on this occasion. "I think that [Bulgaria and Romania] are not the only countries of Central and Eastern Europe that should be accepted [to the alliance], if not now, then in two years, four years, five years. I think that Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro also belong in this Euro-Atlantic cultural and geographical space," Havel said.

Havel expressed his firm support for the inclusion of the three Baltic states in NATO, saying their membership was especially important, as it would symbolize their renewed anchoring in the family of Euro-Atlantic countries after decades of forced separation.

Havel underscored the importance of maintaining good relations with Russia, which has been an outspoken opponent of NATO expansion. But the Czech president emphasized that he did not think including Russia in NATO was a good way to strengthen those relations. "I cannot imagine Russia as a member of this alliance. This would, in my opinion, rather paralyze our cooperation or would make it worthless in a way. Today, in an earlier interview, I chose the following simplified analogy: If I wanted, for example, to further improve my very good relations with our prime minister, then I certainly would not further improve them by asking him to move into my apartment. This would more likely worsen relations," Havel said.

Havel was asked to comment on the Czech Foreign Ministry's decision not to issue a visa to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to attend the summit, on grounds that the Belarusian authorities suppress the human rights of that country's citizens.

Belarus is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. The Czech president, a former dissident who spent four years in prison under the communist regime, said the ban on Lukashenka was not aimed at Belarus's people but specifically at the country's authoritarian leader. "The act of not issuing a visa [to Lukashenka] is not an expression of any kind of aversion toward Belarus. It does not affect its membership [in the Partnership for Peace program]. It is an expression of aversion toward the authoritarian manner of rule represented by Alyaksandr Lukashenka," Havel said.

On a more philosophical note, Havel was asked whether he agreed with the long-term direction the alliance was taking, moving away from a purely defensive posture to so-called "out-of-theater" operations, such as the 1999 Yugoslav bombing campaign, which was aimed at halting ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Havel said that under certain circumstances, such operations, in his opinion, were justified. "I think that there are greater values than state sovereignty and that, in the name of saving humanity or human lives, cases can occur when it is necessary to use force against a particular state. But these cases must be judged extremely responsibly and on an individual basis," Havel said.

On several occasions during his news conference, the Czech president emphasized the significance of the upcoming summit in helping to reshape NATO. He said he was optimistic that summit participants would meet the challenge laid out before them in Prague. "This summit is truly a kind of test. It's not because we planned it this way -- it is due to a coincidence of historical events and processes. It is a test of the meaningfulness of the alliance, but it is a test of many other things, for example, a test of the Euro-American alliance. I believe that Prague will go down in history as a place where everyone passed this test," Havel said.

By another coincidence -- or perhaps in a very consciously planned move -- Havel addressed journalists today in the very hall of Prague Castle where, 11 years ago, he and other Central European leaders formally dissolved the Warsaw Pact, putting a formal end to the Cold War and paving the way for NATO's transformation.