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Estonia's President calls for Rapid NATO Membership

Munich, July 15 (RFE/RL) -- Estonia's President Lennart Meri, has again called for a rapid integration of the Baltic states into NATO's security structure, despite Russian objections.

Meri told a conference in the Germany city of Munich at the weekend that all three Baltic states need the feeling of security that NATO membership offers. He said Russia's aggressive policy in Chechnya gave reason to doubt that permanent stability would develop in Russia in the near future.

"Russia is probably the last colonial superpower," Meri said. "That is why the Baltic states are so interested in joining NATO."

He said NATO should not be influenced by those Russian politicians who insisted that the Baltic states should never be included in the western defense alliance.

Meri's comments were made at foreign policy conference organised by the Christian Social Union (CSU), which governs the province of Bavaria, and is an ally of the Federal government led by German chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Some other speakers at the meeting noted that several U.S. politicians supported early NATO membership for Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

U.S. deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott told Hungary last week that its hopes of joining by 1999 were "realistic".

The Estonian President also told the Munich conference he hoped it would be possible to sign a border agreement with Russia now that Boris Yeltsin has won the Russian elections. Meri gave the meeting a brief description of the long-standing border dispute with Russia, and said the Russian election campaign had been a factor in delaying a resolution.