Prague, 23 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton, making a campaign stop yesterday in the U.S. Midwest, said the first countries of Central and Eastern Europe to be admitted to an expanded NATO should be included in early 1999. Also yesterday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) postponed local elections in Bosnia until next year -- a decision that almost certainly requires NATO to extend its peacekeeping mandate there. Western commentary looks at NATO expansion and NATO's roles.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Clinton throws his weight behind the expansion
The British newspaper says today in an editorial: "By publicly pledging that NATO will expand by April 1999, President Bill Clinton has thrown his personal weight behind a project that will require political courage and steady nerves both in Washington and in every capital in Europe. The prize of a new European security order, with an enlarged and reformed NATO at its core, is an enormously desirable one."
"As of now, NATO's members face no visible threat of invasion. If that remains the case, the reformed alliance will spend an increasing proportion of its time carrying out new functions, such as peacekeeping in third countries, in which Russia and other non members can be closely involved. Russia must be told that it has everything to gain from cooperation with NATO expansion, and nothing to gain by obstruction," the editorial concludes.
THE LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Iron Curtain must not be replaced by a veil of indifference.
"During his first foray into foreign policy of this (U.S.) election campaign, Mr. Clinton defended his record in Haiti, North Korea and Bosnia, and presented himself as a proponent of America's world leadership role. He told an invited audience in Detroit, a city with a large population from Eastern Europe, that America would ultimately pay a much higher price 'if we allow the Iron Curtain to be replaced by a veil of indifference.' The timing of yesterday's speech was awkward because of the political upheavals in Moscow, where opposition to NATO expansion is intense," Stephen Robinson wrote.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: It is America's responsibility to guard newfound freedom.
In an analysis, Tyler Marshall and Jonathan Peterson wrote: "President Clinton said (yesterday) it is America's responsibility to guard the newfound freedom of Central and Eastern Europe and called for extending NATO membership to at least part of the region by 1999. His comments came in the context of a broad-ranging address in which he linked peace and stability abroad with prosperity and jobs at home."
"The specific nations that might be part of the initial group of new members never have been listed publicly. Clinton avoided any such reference in his speech (yesterday). But it is widely expected that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic will be among them. The names of those countries included in the first wave are expected to be announced at a NATO summit tentatively scheduled for late spring or early summer," the analysis said.
THE WASHINGTON POST: What it means to be in NATO
John F. Harris writes today: "The importance of extending eastward the security umbrella provided by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a regular Republican refrain, and Clinton took pains (yesterday) to show he is no less committed to the goal." Harris says: "NATO membership is both a considerable privilege for new members and a serious expense and obligation. NATO countries conduct military training exercises together, and commit to the principle that an attack on any member nation is regarded as an attack on all of them. A U.S.-led NATO force is currently enforcing a peace settlement in Bosnia. NATO expansion is a delicate issue in part because of fears it will antagonize Russia."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Slovakia is slipping behind
"As the debate on the possible expansion of the European Union and NATO grinds on, Slovakia appears to be slipping behind its neighbors in the race to join." He says: "Western governments are not convinced that the country is ready to become a member of either. In the two years since he became prime minister, Vladimir Meciar has become isolated on the European stage." Vincent Boland wrote today.
THE WASHINGTON POST: Are soldiers ready to die for Bratislava?
Michael Dobbs wrote yesterday: "A few weeks ago, the foreign minister of Slovenia was in Washington attempting to interest the United States in a military alliance with his country. He had barely finished making his sales pitch when the foreign minister of Slovakia showed up on an identical mission. A few days later, it was the turn of the foreign minister of Romania. Many Americans might have difficulty locating Slovakia and Slovenia on a map. Over the next six months, however, the next president of the United States will have to decide whether American soldiers should be ready to die for Bratislava or Ljubljana, in the same way that they can already be called upon to defend Paris or London."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Delay of elections will extend NATO mission
On the role of NATO in Bosnia, the German newspaper editorializes today: "The OSCE made the only right decision in postponing local elections which were planned for November. This has direct significance for the military presence of the West in the former war region of Yugoslavia. The soldiers will have to stay longer than Christmas, in order to guarantee a fair election next year, longer than U.S. President Bill Clinton has promised his voters. The second postponement of the elections, which were put off before in September, shows that if the Europeans -- in the contact group, in the IFOR or in the OSCE -- stick together, even the United States -- which urges a quick end to their Bosnia involvement -- will let itself be instructed."
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Realities outweigh an optimistic U.S. political calendar
Terry Atlas wrote today: "With the grim realities in Bosnia outweighing an optimistic U.S. political calendar, Western officials bowed to the inevitable yesterday and postponed next month's Bosnian municipal elections until at least next spring. The decision to delay the potentially explosive local voting -- for the second time -- essentially ensures that the United States and its NATO allies will have to maintain a substantial peacekeeping force in Bosnia through next year."
"With the November 5 election drawing near, Clinton administration officials have been wary of discussing planning for a follow-on peacekeeping force, which might be seen as a retreat from President Clinton's pledge to end the military mission and withdraw American troops after a year. His promise didn't rule out a new NATO operation with American troops taking part," Atlas said.