Washington, 14 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Czech President Vaclav Havel says his meeting with members of the U.S. Congress on NATO expansion was short in duration, but intensive in substance.
Havel made the remark at a brief news conference in Washington yesterday shortly after the meeting. He was joined by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), and senators Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and others.
Havel said he came to Washington not to lobby the U.S. Congress on behalf of the Czech Republic, but to be part of a great historic challenge -- the building of a new security order for Europe and the world.
Havel expressed his gratitude for America's interest in European security and said he believed a U.S. presence in Europe is "tremendously important." But he also said that Europe needs to focus on taking care of its own affairs and not rely solely on U.S. assistance.
Neither Havel nor the members of the U.S. Congress who participated commented at the press conference on the details of the meeting. However, two members of the U.S. Senate issued statements later.
William Roth (R-Delaware) said it was important to make sure a NATO-Russia charter does not undermine the western alliance and is compatible with its basic character.
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), said the decision to expand NATO is monumental and that it will set the course for increased security and stability in Europe.
Earlier yesterday, the Czech ambassador to the U.S., Alexandr Vondra, appeared at a hearing on NATO expansion held by the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the Helsinki Commission.
Vondra was joined by the ambassadors of Romania and Slovenia. They were invited by the Commission to present their views on NATO enlargement with a particular emphasis on human rights issues.
Vondra told the Commission that the Czech Republic had a "high standard of human rights protection" and was proud to have a representative serving as the Chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission for the 1997 session.
Vondra added that the Czech government had established a special commission for minorities, including subsidizing minority publications, cultural activites and educational programs. He also said his government is fully supporting the international effort to identify the properties of Holocaust victims.
Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-New York), chairman of the Commission said that while he supports the inclusion of the Czech Republic into NATO, he still has strong concerns about the issues of restitution and citizenship in the Czech Republic.
D'Amato said he was troubled by reports that people seeking reparation in the Czech Republic were "thwarted by the construction of arbitrary, difficult, if not impossible, processes" implemented by the government that prevented people from getting what was rightfully theirs.
"It makes little sense to have laws enacted and then to have administrative policies that defeat the intent of the law," D'Amato said. "It is completely unacceptable."
Congressman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey), the co-chairman of the Commission, also expressed reservations about restitution and citizenship matters in the Czech Republic, and focused particularly on the plight of Roma orphans.
Smith urged the Czech government to consider having a human rights ombudsman to help resolve these kinds of conflicts.