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Lithuania: Parliamentarian Presses For NATO Membership

Washington, 9 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - The chairman of Lithuania's parliament, Vytautas Landsbergis, has come to Washington to meet top U.S. officials to press for early NATO membership for his country, but he is not likely to get much more than kind words.

U.S. officials have been lavish with words of support and reassurance for the Baltic countries since the governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were given to understand that they would not be invited to join the western alliance at a NATO summit in Madrid in July.

But Landsbergis, who led his country to independence and was Lithuania's first post-Soviet president, from 1990 to 1992, wants more tangible signs of Western commitment and engagement.

In an interview in RFE/RL's Washington studio Tuesday, Landsbergis said he will tell the United States that Lithuania is as ready as Poland or the Czech Republic or Hungary to join NATO and should be invited to do so at the Madrid summit. "The only obstacle to our membership is Russia," he said.

Landsbergis said he will emphasize in his Washington meetings that to give in to Russian pressure is "a surrender and weakening of political will" that would be more devastating to NATO than a confrontation with an overwhelming force of arms. "A moral sense is more important than the number of weapons," he said.

He was due today to meet Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, following talks Tuesday with Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Congressional leaders.

Washington politicians have a lot of friendly understanding for the Baltic countries but U.S. officials have given no sign this could translate into a change of policy on NATO expansion to include the north Europeans in the first group of new members.

The United States does not share Landsbergis' view of Lithuania's NATO readiness and differs with him on several other points as well.

A U.S. State Department official who spoke with RFE/RL on condition of anonymity said Lithuania would have a hard time making the case that the training and equipment of its military force is equal to the three Central Europeans, or even that its economy is as advanced as that of Slovenia which also wants to be among the first to join the Western alliance. "Russia's opposition is not the only factor," he said

To dispel criticism that the United States is caving in to Russian pressure and leaving the Baltic countries in a Russian sphere of influence, the United States is considering several diplomatic steps which Landsbergis hopes to advance during his visit.

Lithuania would like U.S. support for a special NATO charter with the Baltic states along the lines of documents being drafted between NATO and Ukraine and NATO and Russia.

The State Department official said no such charter for the Baltics is under consideration. But he said the United States has discussed with the Baltic states an agreement proclaiming and reaffirming its own relationship with the Baltic countries.

Landsbergis said in the RFE/RL interview that Lithuania has submitted to the United States its version of the security agreement and knows the United States has drafted its own text but there has been no exchange yet. "We got no response to our proposal and we have not seen the U.S. draft," he said, adding "we are only at the first stage."

Landsbergis would like to see a quicker pace on developing and negotiating the agreement, which is no simple matter.

Lithuania appears to have drawn ahead and apart from Estonia and Latvia in its quest for security and Western recognition, and would prefer to have a bilateral security agreement with the United States.

The U.S. State Department official said the United States wants to continue to deal in this respect with the three Baltic states together and is considering only one agreement.

Landsbergis said his country wants the agreement or charter to provide some security guarantees. He admitted this might be hard to accomplish but insisted that "some sort of political protection must be given."

One suggestion for NATO offices to be established in the region is under consideration.

Landsbergis said Lithuania also wants the document to reflect recognition of the Baltic states as future NATO members, calling them "applicant countries," a stronger term than the U.S. designation "aspiring country" or "aspirant."

The State Department official said the United States has made clear that NATO remains open to all countries in the Partnership for Peace program that want to join and fulfill the criteria and sees no need to create a special class among them. "We are sticking to this policy," he said.

He said the United States hopes that after the Madrid summit, NATO will adopt what he described as "a process that includes a variety of mechanisms, including stronger ties with the European Union and the Partnership for Peace and other institutions that active aspirants (to NATO membership) can take advantage of."