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NATO: Czech FM Explains The Georgia, Ukraine Compromise

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (file photo) (RFE/RL) NATO's decision to deny Georgia and Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP) but offer a promise of eventual alliance membership surprised many observers.

Expectations ahead of the summit were that NATO members were firmly divided on the issue, with Germany and France leading those opposed to the MAP, and the United States and smaller "New Europe" countries supporting it. RFE/RL correspondent Brian Whitmore caught up with Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg at the NATO summit in Bucharest on April 3 to ask him about what was behind the last-minute deal, announced hours earlier.

RFE/RL: Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko called what happened today "better" than a MAP. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called it a "geo-political coup." It looks like the Georgians and the Ukrainians got even more than they had hoped for. Just how important was the agreement that was reached today?

Karel Schwarzenberg: Well, I think it was a very interesting discussion, because there were two [opposing] views on it. There were some states, led by the United States, the Poles, us [the Czech Republic] and so on, who were supportive for the MAP for Ukraine and Georgia. And there were states that were very careful in opposing it, more or less led by Germany and France. The discussion was carried on...over the whole evening [on April 2]. [On the morning of April 3] there was a committee [meeting] to hammer out a common text; and finally, with the Americans and the Germans, it was hammered out. This paper was [distributed].

The first text wasn't bad. When [Polish Foreign Minister] Radek Sikorski and I looked at it, we said it is not the dream text, but we could live with it. But then, the Polish President Lech Kaczynski came and said it isn't acceptable for him and then the discussion started. Then it separated. The Poles led a group, mainly the Baltic states, out of the room. They had a caucus, I think this is what the Americans called it. Then again there was a meeting [with all members], and this final text came out.

RFE/RL: What was missing in the original text that caused Kaczynski to oppose it?

Schwarzenberg: There wasn't such a [strong] commitment to the final acceptance of Ukraine and Georgia as [eventual] members of NATO. It didn't have such a strong commitment as now. And as I understand, they [Poland] like the final text very much.

RFE/RL: So the Polish role in this was very large?

Schwarzenberg: It was very important. Very important. But, of course, the Poles had several countries supporting them, too.

RFE/RL: And that would be the Czechs and the Baltic states?

Schwarzenberg: I think we were very supportive.

RFE/RL: How hard was it to get the Germans and the French to come around?

Schwarzenberg: I think it was very tough for them, but finally they agreed.


RFE/RL: Before this summit, and especially after April 2, when it appeared that Germany and France would block the MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia], there has been a lot of talk about the conflict between so-called "old Europe" and "new Europe." After today, do you think this may have been a little bit overblown?

Schwarzenberg: I don't think these differences are very big. It is true that countries that have more recent experience with dictatorships are sometimes more sensitive than countries who never had this experience. Of course, [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel is a person who understands such regimes, and has much more instinct for it than many of her Western colleagues, because she knows what she is speaking about." [Editor's note: Merkel grew up in the former East Germany.]

RFE/RL: Do we see more consensus in NATO than was expected? Are you surprised about the outcome of this summit?

Schwarzenberg: I always thought that at the end of the day there would be consensus. I always thought that when I came here we would have a tough fight, and I think that in the future we will have tough fights; but we feel the responsibility to find a solution.

RFE/RL: Now Mr. Putin will be arriving this evening. What do you expect from him?

Schwarzenberg: Mr. Putin has always been a realist. And some statements in [recent] days from Russia have been softer. I do think that with the change of power they would like to have a pleasant atmosphere. They do have to accept some realities. I do think, on the other hand, they will look for a chance to be tougher. As the French say, "You need to step back in order to get a better jump."

Looking Ahead

RFE/RL: Do you expect another battle at the foreign ministers' meeting in December, or do you expect this to sail through? Can we expect MAPs for Georgia and Ukraine at the foreign ministers' meeting?

Schwarzenberg: I think there will be a discussion in December, of course.

RFE/RL: But it will be an easier discussion than today?

Schwarzenberg: I don't want to overestimate our role. Foreign ministers are focused on the topic they are discussing. Heads of state need to look around and look more for the political mood in their country and [think about] the political success of their political party and their government. Ministers of foreign affairs are more engaged in foreign affairs itself.

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