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UN: Eastern, Central European Nations Use Forum To Articulate Differences With U.S.

  • Andrew Tully

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has frequently praised what it calls the "coalition of the willing" in the Iraq war, scorning the opposition of traditional European allies France and Germany. Many of America's allies in the war are from Eastern and Central Europe. But while extolling their ties with Washington in speeches at the United Nations this week, some of these nations spoke out on their differences, too.

United Nations, 25 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the so-called Vilnius 10 group of Eastern and Central European nations who sided with the United States over the war in Iraq have so far held to that common policy. But in speeches to the United Nations General Assembly this week, some have shown that they are not in lockstep with Washington on all issues.

The differences expressed this week by the presidents of Croatia, Estonia, and Macedonia by no means indicate deep divisions with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. But the fact that the leaders spoke out so publicly, and that they did so at the United Nations, demonstrates that their support for U.S. efforts in Iraq does not extend to all foreign-policy issues.

Before and during the war in Iraq, U.S. officials, particularly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, gave little weight to opposition by two of America's traditional allies, France and Germany. "You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's 'old Europe.' If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the East," Rumsfeld said on 22 January.

Some observers have suggested that the governments of these Central and Eastern European nations -- with their fragile, emerging economies -- felt they had no choice but to take sides with the world's only superpower. But the citizens of these countries often did not share their governments' support of U.S. policy to go to war in Iraq without specific UN authorization.

Regardless of why these Eastern and Central European leaders supported Bush, their positions essentially have not changed, even as security in Iraq remains shaky and coalition forces -- and UN officials -- have become the targets of terrorists and guerrilla fighters. They made their positions clear in speeches delivered this week at the UN General Assembly.

On 23 September, President Stipe Mesic of Croatia said some leaders mistakenly perceive the UN as an abstract monolith. Instead, he said, they should realize that the world body is collection of different nations with occasionally conflicting needs and outlooks. As a result, he said, the world must be patient with the UN's sometimes slow response.

"Our organization, the United Nations, represents the united efforts of the world in the whole-hearted search for a solution to the increasing problems of the present day. It is truly our organization, but sometimes it appears as if we expect from the UN administration that it solves our problems by itself. We forget that the United Nations is not an abstract institution and does not have its own will on which we can depend. The United Nations represents the will of each and every one of its 191 member states," Mesic said.

Mesic reasserted Croatia's alignment with the United States in the war against terrorism and said his country is ready to help rebuild Iraq and restore order there. But he diverged from the U.S. on the issue of nuclear nonproliferation. Mesic urged all nations to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, saying its value is in its goal of a universal end to nuclear-weapons testing. Bush has said he will not sign the pact.

Yesterday, Estonian President Arnold Ruutel also maintained his country's alliance with the United States over Iraq. He dismissed the claim of some critics that the war had undermined the UN's moral authority. But he said it has reminded the organization that it must be more decisive in the future.

But Ruutel differed with the Bush administration on the global environment. He said that even a small country such as Estonia is aware of how careful it must be not to pollute or waste precious natural resources. "I consider a sustainable approach to the environment and sustainable development to be one of the most significant commitments both for the United Nations organization and member states," he said. "In the long term, the welfare and state of people will primarily depend on our ability or will to use wisely and sparingly the limited resources of our planet and shape the environment we live in."

The Estonian president said he is aware that there is not yet any conclusive evidence that human behavior is directly responsible for global warming. But he added that his government, like many others in Europe, is concerned about recent meteorological phenomena that suggest a rise in the Earth's temperature.

Ruutel said these phenomena include repeated occurrences of the warm-weather patterns known as El Nino and La Nina, and the lethal heat wave that blanketed Europe this past summer. As a result, Ruutel said the Estonian government has signed the Kyoto global-warming treaty, and he urged all other countries that have not done so to ratify it, as well.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton supported the Kyoto treaty, but in 2001, shortly after he took office, Bush said he had decided not to ratify Kyoto. He said he feared it might hurt the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, Macedonia's president, Boris Trajkovski, said in his own speech yesterday that his government is pleased at coalition efforts to rebuild Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. But he urged a greater role for the United Nations in the country.

"We fully support the goals of the international community in Iraq -- the achievement of a free, sovereign Iraq, run by the people of Iraq, for the people of Iraq. However, this sovereignty must be based on democracy, freedom, and peaceful existence with neighbors. To achieve these goals as quickly as possible, the United Nations must play a more comprehensive and active role in the transition back to Iraqi sovereignty," Trajkovski said.

The U.S. has resisted calls for it to cede control over the political transition in Iraq to the United Nations and the Iraqi Governing Council. Bush told the UN on 23 September that Washington seeks an "orderly and democratic process" for returning self-rule to Iraq, which he said could not be rushed.

Trajkovski also expressed concern about the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He urged the UN to also play a greater role there. The Bush administration has been accused of putting too little pressure on Israel to moderate its response to Palestinian suicide bombings, thereby endangering the peace process.

The U.S. failures to ratify Kyoto and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are two examples of why many of Washington's traditional allies have been angry with the Bush administration. It also has been criticized for deciding not to ratify the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, and for withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that it signed with the Soviet Union in 1973.

Bush's foreign critics say these and other decisions are evidence that his administration intends to use America's power unilaterally because there is no other nation that can stop it.

But there was no evidence from this week's speeches that any of the governments in Eastern and Central Europe that have differences with Washington view them as crucial to bilateral relations. And, for the most part, the speakers indicated that the nature of their various alliances with the United States have not changed.

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