Washington, March 20 (RFE/RL) - Slovakia's two priorities
are integration into the European Union and the NATO alliance, Deputy
Foreign Minister Jozef Sestak says.
"Slovakia looks West, not East," Sestak told reporters at a
Washington press briefing Tuesday. The official is in the U.S.
capital on a working visit to discuss closer economic and security
ties with the United States.
He says that four years after its separation from the Czech
Republic, Slovakia is "a success story," both economically and
politically. Sestak says Slovakia is achieving its goal of making the
transition to a free market economy and a democratic system of
Sestak says Slovakia's gross domestic product is among the highest
in central Europe and he says inflation is "totally under control."
He says that while the unemployment rate of 13 percent is cause for
concern, it is also a sign of a restructuring economy.
The country's privatization effort has also been successful, Sestak
says, with 61 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) now in the
private sector. The government's goal, he says, is to complete the
"second wave" of privatization by the end of the summer and have 80
percent of GDP in private hands.
Slovakia is also the current president of the Central European Free
Trade Association, and Sestak says Slovakia wants to strengthen and
enlarge the organization as a precursor to Bratislava's entry into
the European Union.
To that end, he says Slovakia has invited Bulgaria and Romania to
join the free trade association and has invited Ukraine to attend the
association summit in Bratislava next fall.
Sestak says that while Slovakia is firmly oriented toward the West,
the government also believes in realism and pragmatism. He says that
means that the key to a new European security structure is "security
for all, not just a few countries."
He says Slovakia supports continued dialogue between Russia and the
United States and between NATO and Russia. Slovakia, the Czech
Republic, Hungary and Poland are the central European nations that
want immediate and full membership in NATO. Russia is opposed to
expansion of the alliance and has warned that adding new members will
cause Russia to re-evaluate its own security needs.
The alliance has said repeatedly that expansion will occur, but not
in the immediate future. For the moment, NATO is increasing its
cooperation with the former communist countries through the
Partnership for Peace program. That program enables non-members to
participate in many NATO activities but it does not provide security
Sestak also defended Slovakia against criticisms of its human rights
record that were contained in the U.S. State Department's annual
report on human rights issued earlier this month.
"While the government generally respected most of the human rights
of its citizens, disturbing trends away from democratic principles
emerged," the State Department said. "There were credible allegations
of politically motivated dismissals of public officials, intimidation
of opponents of government policy, police misuse of authority and
interference with the electronic media."
Sestak says some of the State Department's conclusions are not
accurate and that others are open to debate, although he did not
provide specific rebuttals. He also said press accounts of the U.S.
report omitted positive conclusions.
On the issue of press freedom, Sestak says that he believes the
press in Slovakia is totally free. He says American journalists would
be envious of the freedom enjoyed by their Slovak colleagues.