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Central & Eastern European Summit Discusses Economy and Europe

By Lisa McAdams and Tom Hagler

Salzburg, Austria; July 10 (RFE/RL) -- The first Central and Eastern European Economic Summit ended yesterday in Salzburg, with leading politicians and business people pledging to press ahead with massive market-oriented reforms.

Hundreds of business and political leaders from across the region met for three days in this Austrian city to consider how best to facilitate the continued push toward stabilization, privatization, economic growth, and integration with West European political and economic institutions.

The region constitute a major market of 120 to 300 million consumers. Perhaps the only surprise is that with numbers like that the summit has only just now come to fruition.

The agenda was wide-spread in scope. But two abiding themes emerged: one, dealing with the prospects for political stability in Russia after recent elections, and the other concerned with the European Union and NATO's future roles in the East.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Toby Trister Gati said President Boris Yeltsin's re-election opens the way to the continuation of the market-oriented reform process in Russia. He also envisaged closer economic and political cooperation between Russia and the international community in the future.

Alexei Pushkov, a foreign affairs columnist with a Russian weekly, the Moscow News, said he believed Russia could now move from, as he put it, "negative to positive stability."

All Eastern bankers and/or finance ministers present at the summit emphasized the importance of foreign direct investment as the crucial factor in the development of the region.

Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin went to great lengths to stress that, as he put it, "the period of high risk (in investing in Russia) is over." He did concede that some of Russia's banks were in difficulties, but insisted that their woes would not undermine the entire credit industry. Dubinin also reassured delegates that the Central Bank was keeping a close eye on the entire banking sector and would intervene whenever the need arose.

On a related note, Russian Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin said Moscow would continue to abide by its agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has agreed to extend to Russia a ten thousand million dollar loan.

Several participants in the summit warned that a new "Iron Curtain" may divide Europe unless the European Union (EU) and NATO accept new members.

Countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia are well on their way toward economic integration into the EU but other states, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Albania lag behind.

But representatives from Albania, Ukraine and Romania said membership in the EU remains their crucial goal.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that "full membership in the EU is our strategic goal and we will not relent in its achievement because otherwise a new wall will divide Europe."

Kuchma also said Ukraine wants a stronger partnership with NATO and an association with the Western European Union, a defense organization. His words were echoed by many other delegates.

But all summit delegates agreed that Russia must be a full-fledged participant in decision-making on European security. Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn said that European security was "impossible to imagine" without Russia.

Russia has long opposed the extension plans, arguing that they endanger its security. Dmitri Ryurikov, who serves as President Boris Yeltsin's foreign affairs adviser, re-iterated that opposition during the summit. He said that in the aftermath of Yeltsin's re-election the issue is "even more contentious than ever."

Ryurikov said that European security has never been so strong as it is now and that Russia, in his words, "was not a threat to anyone." He then emphasized that this situation eliminates any need for NATO eastward expansion. Ryurikov was seconded by Yasin, who also voiced opposition to NATO's eastward expansion.

But U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter yesterday said there is no turning back on the expansion. He put it succinctly: "we are going to do it, the decision was taken." But Hunter also said that the expansion is meant to reinforce stability in the region and that "the alliance is determined to prove to Russia that NATO is not directed against any country." And he added that "the only enemy is instability, insecurity and uncertainty."

Summit organizers from the Swiss-based World Economic Forum announced at the closing plenary session that a second summit would be held next year also in Salzburg.