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Balts Achieve Part, Not All At White House Meeting

Washington, June 25 (RFE/RL) -- The three Baltic presidents achieved part but not all of what they hoped for in their meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton Tuesday, according to longtime American observers of U.S.-Baltic relations.

According to Baltic diplomats, Presidents Lennart Meri of Estonia, Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia and Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania had hoped to convince Clinton to accept the Lithuanian formula of "who, not when" on NATO enlargement.

According to that formula, which was first elaborated in the Lithuanian foreign ministry, the Western alliance should identify later this year all the countries it plans to take in sometime in the future and only later specify when each of the candidates would be actually admitted.

They did not achieve that goal.

Instead, Ulmanis told reporters after the meeting at the White House that Clinton had said regarding NATO enlargement: "the first nations to be admitted will not be the last."

That formula, which the three presidents said they were pleased by and which Ulmanis said demonstrated that U.S.-Baltic relations had "never been better," is nonetheless far less than the three and their countries had hoped for.

According to one American expert on the Baltics, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Clinton's words represent the clearest U.S. statement yet that the three Baltic countries will not be among the first batch of new alliance members as all of them had hoped.

But it apparently represents a step forward from the Baltic perspective. As one State Department official told RFE/RL, this formulation suggests that the U.S. intends to make it "very clear" that when the alliance does admit the first new members in Eastern Europe, that step will not end the process.

Prior to the meeting, officials at both the White House and the State Department had suggested that President Clinton would be making a "very important" statement during his meeting. Apparently, they were referring to these words.

Moreover, many observers in Washington see this as an especially strong statement from the White House coming as it does between the two rounds of the Russian presidential vote.

As the three presidents indicated in their comments to the press, however, the meeting focused on more than just NATO. And each president, reflecting the different views of his country, stressed a different part of the agenda.

Estonian President Meri, in a statement given to Clinton and released later to the press by the Estonian embassy, called on the United States to help the Baltic countries to counter what he called Moscow's "disinformation and destabilization" campaign in the region. And he urged that Washington make it clear that it would not tolerate any challenges to the independence and territorial integrity of the Baltic states.

Latvian President Ulmanis said that the presidents had also discussed the importance of the economic integration of the Baltic countries into Europe. And he suggested that the Baltic presidents had made it clear that they saw NATO membership as a means to their security and integration rather than as an end in itself.

And Lithuanian President Brazauskas added that the presidents had raised their concerns about changes in the Conventional Forces in Europe accord that will allow Moscow to maintain additional forces in Pskov oblast, a region adjoining the Baltic states.

Further, in a comment that Lithuanian diplomats in Washington have indicated reflects the views of more than just Brazauskas, the Lithuanian president suggested that the expansion of NATO would increase the security of all countries in the region "even Russia."

But in a comment that some Baltic diplomats say does not enjoy universal support in the Baltic states, the Lithuanian president said that he had urged that the Western alliance move to develop more intense direct ties with the Russian government.