Washington, 1 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A leading U.S. senator says that American ethnic groups have played an important role in mobilizing congressional support for NATO expansion and keeping politicians well informed about key issues in Central and Eastern Europe.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) made the comment Wednesday at a one-day conference on "Security and Stability in Central and Eastern Europe: A Vital U.S. Interest."
It was sponsored by the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), an organization representing more than 20 million Americans who trace their heritage to that part of the world, to discuss NATO expansion issues with legislators and officials from the State Department and White House.
Daniel Fried, a special assistant to U.S. President Bill Clinton and senior staff director at the National Security Council, said Clinton considers NATO expansion to be a top foreign policy goal.
Fried stated that despite concerns being expressed in the U.S. Congress and the media, NATO enlargement at a Madrid summit this July will go forward even if a Russia-NATO charter is not yet sealed.
Fried said Clinton is standing firm on what Fried called the "Five No's Policy." He listed them as:
No delay in NATO enlargement.
No Russian veto in NATO.
No second-class citizenship for any members in NATO.
No subordination of NATO to any other organization.
No exclusion of any European democracy to NATO in the future.
Fried added that the Clinton administration believes the first new NATO members could be admitted by 1999, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of NATO.
Another conference participant, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), founder and co-chairman of a congressional group on Armenian issues, urged that the door to NATO be kept open to all applicants in the region, including former Soviet republics.
Pallone said supporters of NATO expansion must continue to push for acceptance of additional members while making clear that "the U.S. does not accept an implicit or explicit Russian veto over new NATO members -- including the former Soviet republics, whether in the Baltics, the Caucuses or the heartland of the Central European plain."
He said it is important, however, to reassure Russia that an expanded NATO, even a NATO that goes right up to Russia's borders, is in no way a threat.
Pallone said: "As NATO goes about defining its new mission for the 21st century, I believe we will find that our alliance is shaped by such basic core values as an adherence to democratic values and the mutual agreement to defend against aggression. A Russia truly committed to democracy and peace has nothing to fear from such an alliance."
Peter Rodman, director of national security studies at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom told attendees it is crucial that Russia understand that NATO is a defensive organization and has proven itself as a key institution in promoting stability in Europe.
Rodman added that he had the greatest confidence in Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her effort to help negotiqations on the Russia-NATO charter. He said she is "genetically incapable of not representing the interests of Central and Eastern Europe."
Albright is in Moscow today for a 24-hour visit, primarily to discuss the charter proposal with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.