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White House Takes Credit for European Security

Washington, June 4 (RFE/RL) -- The White House is claiming a lot of credit on behalf of U.S. foreign policy for developments in Europe over the past three days that strengthen the security of Europe.

"The world is a safer place today as a result of the last 72 hours of U.S. diplomacy and success in U.S. foreign policy," pursued by President Bill Clinton, spokesman Michael McCurry said.

He was referring to resolution of a dispute with Russia over the terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty that set limits on non-nuclear weapons, the announcement that Ukraine had completed removal of all former Soviet nuclear weapons from its territory, and the agreement by foreign ministers of the European NATO alliance members to take more responsibility for their security needs.

The conventional forces issue was settled in Vienna on Saturday by 30 nations, including the United States, that have signed the treaty. Basically, it allows Russia to continue to exceed limits for tanks and other heavy weapons. Russia will be able to temporarily keep more heavy weapons deployed in the Caucasus region than the treaty permits because of continuing unrest in the region.

The conventional forces agreement was concluded in 1989, when the Soviet Union still existed. Negotiations on the issue of Russia's insistence that it be permitted to exceed limits in the Caucasus started more than two years ago.

The White House had much praise for Ukraine and its President Leonid Kuchma following his announcement about nuclear weapons removal. The U.S. had been encouraging Kyiv since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to get rid of the warheads.

Clinton said on Saturday that the removal of the last of the 4,000 warheads to Russia was for dismantling "a remarkable achievement." He said this was a "historic contribution in reducing the nuclear threat."

In Berlin on Monday, the North Atlantic Council foreign ministers set out procedures for Europe to take greater responsibilities for its own security and defense and establish a European security and defense identity within NATO. "Each of these developments, I think, will certainly make Europe closer and safer," McCurry said. "The world itself, as the result of the enormous and impressive changes of the last years, has become a safer place."

McCurry's remarks to reporters came on a day highlighted by foreign policy issues that are likely to become campaign themes for President Clinton, a democrat who is seeking his second and final four-year term in next November's election.

Clinton met briefly with former Polish President Lech Walesa at the White House. They discussed NATO expansion, the June 16th Russian elections and Poland's economic and political progress.

A statement issued by McCurry said Clinton and Walesa agreed that NATO expansion to include central and eastern European nations as full members would take place in a "steady, deliberate and determined manner, threatening no one."

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have all repeatedly expressed the desire to join NATO as full members with complete security guarantees as soon as possible. Russia has said it opposes expansion of the alliance to its borders.

As Clinton met with Walesa, Clinton's Republican opponent for President, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole was announcing plans to introduce legislation to speed up the process of expanding the alliance.

In a statement, Dole said NATO expansion "appears stalled," and he says it must be "expedited." The Senator says he will introduce legislation on Tuesday to provide assistance to emerging democracies in central and eastern Europe that will help them get into NATO sooner.

The alliance has said it will not expand this year. The U.S. cannot unilaterally accept new members for the 16-nation alliance. However, action by the U.S. Congress can put political pressure on the president to make use of U.S. influence in the alliance.