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US Impatient With EU Over Speed Of Enlargement

By Malgorzata Alterman

Brussels, July 8 (RFE/RL) -- American officials are worried about the slow pace of European Union (EU) enlargement and say the EU is not doing enough to bring stability and security to Eastern Europe.

According to NATO sources, this was the main message the alliance's Secretary General, Javier Solana, brought back from his week-long recent trip to the United States that included meetings with President Bill Clinton and senior figures in the administration and Congress.

Both NATO and the European Union are committed to enlargement to integrate Central and Eastern Europe with the West.

Solana was reportedly told that since the goal of both organizations was the same, the speed should be synchronized. U.S. officials feel that while NATO's timetable for enlargement is clear, the union's is not.

NATO is aiming for the end of the century to admit new members, although the date has not yet been confirmed officially. But the earliest any newcomers are likely to join the EU is now put at 2002, and some regard that as optimistic.

For the United States, one specific reason for speeding up EU enlargement is that it would help to solve the problem of the Baltic states and other countries from the region that are not likely to join NATO in the first round of enlargement.

U.S. officials acknowledge that there is going to be much harder to bring those countries into NATO. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov's message to NATO ministers in Berlin was pretty clear: "no nuclear weapons, no foreign troops and no more expansion."

For NATO diplomats, that meant that Russia could cope with NATO taking in a first group of new members -- presumably Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- on condition that it will not station foreign troops or nuclear weapons on their territory of the newcomers. But this, Moscow seems to be saying, is as far as it can go.

The leaders of the Baltic States repeat during their visits to NATO headquarters that EU membership must not be seen as a substitute for a place in NATO. But many U.S. officials seem to share the opinion of numerous European analysts that the best way for the Baltic States to the Western security system will be through the Western European Union (WEU), the (future) defense arm of the European Union.

Solana received one more clear message from his American hosts on enlargement. It was that Europe's apparent reluctance to act on enlargement makes it more difficult to assure the U.S. Senate's ratification of a treaty expanding the membership of NATO, the treaty commiting the U. S. to go to war to defend the larger territory. "You Europeans, you can't get your act together -- again," Solana was said to have been told by one of Washington's most influential political figures.

It is that sense of frustration which is perhaps the most significant aspect of the U.S. message to Solana, and the one which may be the biggest cause of alarm among Central and East European countries.

The tension between Europe and the United States over the war in former Yugoslavia is well-documented and apt to resurface at any time, particularly as the mandate of I-FOR runs out.

Rightly or wrongly, many in America feel that they had to send in troops to Bosnia to bail out the failed efforts of Europeans to make peace there. Since Bosnia is the looking glass through which EU-U.S. relations are viewed in Washington, it is not surprising that NATO enlargement is now being looked at from the same perspective.