Washington, 12 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says the United States needs a bigger budget for foreign affairs, chiefly in order to keep financial commitments to international institutions, finance economic programs in the former Soviet Union and NATO expansion in Central Europe.
She emphasized the importance of NATO enlargement in wide-ranging testimony yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee.
The proceedings were expected to be a milder version of Albright's scheduled appearance today before another important congressional body -- the House Appropriations Committee -- which must approve the Administration's budget request for the 1998 fiscal year, beginning in October.
The national budget proposal, sent to the U.S. Congress from the White House last week, asks for nearly 19, 500 million dollars for foreign affairs, a 6.7 percent increase over current spending.
Congressmen on the Appropriations Committee are likely to ask hard questions about the way the State Department spends its money and why it can't manage without an increase.
Yesterday, the thrust of the discussion was on policy priorities and what would happen if the State Department did not get as much money as it is asking for.
Albright said a delay in NATO's plans for expansion would have the effect of "indefinitely freezing NATO's membership along unjust Cold War lines," and create a permanent source of tension and insecurity in the heart of Europe. That is not an acceptable solution, she said.
With NATO expansion, on the other hand, Albright painted a glowing picture of a dream coming true for an integrated, stable and democratic Europe.
She said Central Europeans are already settling historic disputes as part of the process of preparing for NATO membership and that an enlarged alliance could in the future strengthen American confidence that "there will be no more Bosnias and, that the democratic revolutions of 1989 will endure and that the cold war division of Europe will not reopen."
She said the United States understands Russia's opposition to NATO enlargement and does not expect it to change.
But Albright said "it is not in our interest to delay or derail a process that is helping to build a united Europe."
She emphasized repeatedly that the United States is determined not to draw new lines in Europe and that the strategy to avoid that is, in her words "to proceed with a careful and transparent process of expansion, while offering to Russia the opportunity to be a full partner in building a united and peaceful Europe."
Albright said NATO's proposal of a formal charter to Russia will be a major subject of her forthcoming talks in Europe.
She begins a ten-day trip Saturday to Europe and Asia that includes stops in major West European capitals and Moscow.
Albright is likely to tell political leaders there much the same things she told the congressional committee -- that the United States wants close ties with Russia and wants that country to play an important role in Europe. But she said NATO's decisions in Brussels are not going to affect the fate of Russia's democracy.
"That depends on the ability of Russia's leaders to meet the real needs of their people and to speed Russia's economic recovery and revival," Albright said.
Hungarian-born congressman Tom Lantos (D-California) took issue at the hearing with Russian objections to NATO expansion. He said NATO has always been a defensive alliance and it would be a mistake to concede to the Russian view that expansion is somehow an aggressive act against Russia.
Lantos also suggested adding Romania and Slovenia to the list of countries to be invited to join NATO this summer. It's expected to include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. "It is my recommendation that NATO invite five countries, not three," Lantos said.
Albright replied that his suggestion will be taken into consideration.
But her statements suggested that the United States sees economic programs and NATO's Partnership for Peace as a way to forge closer ties with the Baltic states and others who are not going to be invited at the planned NATO summit in Madrid in July.
Albright said the Partnership program is part of the U.S. strategy to make sure no new divisions arise in Europe. "That is why our financial support for the Partnership is vital," she said, and why funding is critical for economic assistance in Central Europe.
Albright said this aid has helped Estonia, the Czech Republic and others become thriving democracies. "But aid is still desperately needed in struggling democracies like Bulgaria and Romania," she said.
Albright also stressed the importance of a proposed new economic initiative for the countries of the former Sovet Union to promote business, trade and investment and the rule of law. It's projected to cost more than 500 million dollars and accounts for a large part of the requested budget increase.
Albright defended the request, saying U.S. efforts in the newly independent states are a priority "because the ultimate victory of freedom over despotism in this part of the world is not yet assured."
She said the same could be said of Bosnia, adding that America's strategy there would continue to focus on efforts to establish a stable military balance in the region, help displaced people safely return home and see that more persons indicted as war criminals are arrested and prossecuted.
Albright observed that U.S. involvement in Bosnia is not very popular with the American people. But she said it demonstrates American leadership in Europe, a continent bound with U.S. national interest.
The United States stands ready to continue or even increase its role in helping to reduce tensions in various strategic regions, including the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, she said.
But America's peacekeeping activities within the United Nations are not likely to expand. Albright made a strong plea to legislators to release funds that would allow the United States to pay huge arrears to the United Nations.
Several committee members said that before the debt is paid off, the U.N. must not only undergo significant internal structural reforms but also change the way it assesses countries for peacekeeping operations and reduce America's share of the cost.
There were also many questions about China and criticism alleging that in the interests of improving relations with China, the United States has reduced pressure on Beijing to respect human rights.
Albright said the United States wants to expand cooperation with China but will not hesitate to differ with the government in Beijing on human rights issues. She said she would make that clear when she visits the Chinese capital later this month.
Albright said "human rights is the signature element of U.S. foreign policy -- we need to speak loudly and clearly on it but not forget that engaging China at this time is important for the United States."