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Western Press Review: Second Thoughts, Second Guesses On NATO

Prague, 16 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Hardly had the "hoorays" sounded on a Russian-NATO agreement on expanding the North Atlantic alliance eastward when the "nays" began to resound also.

It may be that the difficulties of winning over Boris Yeltsin will be minor relative to the difficulties of winning over political opponents in the United States and Western Europe. So say a number of Western press commentators.

NEW YORK TIMES: Americans may wonder whether NATO expansion is necessary or wise

The paper editorialized yesterday that a policy debate not yet joined in the United States still stands between the idea of NATO expansion and its realization. The newspaper says: "While America has been occupied by other concerns, President (Bill) Clinton has set in motion an epochal change in the map of Europe that is now racing toward realization. The change is the Eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and it picked up momentum Wednesday with completion of an agreement to govern Russia's relationship with the alliance.

"But as Clinton declares the imminent arrival of a new era of peace, unity and democracy in Europe, the American people and the Senate have reason to wonder whether NATO expansion is necessary or wise. They certainly have every right to debate the issue before it is settled. Fortunately, the Constitution anticipated just such a rush to action by the White House and gave the Senate the final word. NATO enlargement will require approval by a two-thirds majority in the Senate. By the time that vote is taken, some of the shine may have faded from the relentlessly positive picture depicted by expansion supporters in Eastern Europe and the United States."

The editorial concludes: "After Clinton welcomed the agreement with Russia with rhetorical flourishes (yesterday afternoon), Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled to Capitol Hill to brief members of the Senate. She knows the debate has barely begun."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Analysts worry that Russia and Yeltsin will look like losers

In a news analysis in today's edition, Matthew Brzezinski says there are thinkers in the West who are worried that Russia's Yeltsin was forced to give up too much. Brzezinski writes: "While world leaders lined up to take credit for a breakthrough security deal between Russia and NATO, some observers here warned not to uncork the champagne just yet." The writer says: "Analysts worry that when the details of Moscow's agreement with NATO are finally on the table, Russia -- and specifically President Boris Yeltsin -- will look like big losers."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Extending NATO is the most significant U.S. initiative since the end of the Cold War

In a commentary published today "New York Times" writer R. W. Apple Jr. says: "The decision to extend membership in NATO to former Soviet-bloc countries in Central Europe, which Russia explicitly if grudgingly accepted (yesterday), is almost certainly the most significant United States foreign policy initiative since the end of the Cold War. It represents a redrawing of the world security map as basic as Washington's decision to recognize communist China. Yet it was made, early in 1995, in characteristic Clinton Administration style, without a formal policy review, without a structured evaluation of competing viewpoints, without political debate and over the initial objections of senior military officers."

Apple writes: "And so the key question is only now being posed: will this momentous decision enhance and enlarge the democratic Europe that has been built in the half-century since World War II or will it draw a new scar-like line across the Continent, east of the old Iron Curtain, and hinder Russia's rapprochement with the West?"

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Senate approval of NATO expansion isn't expected to be easy

Peter Grier, writes in a news analysis today that the future of NATO is "the most fateful issue that the U.S. government will deal with this year." But, he says: "Consider this chain of events: the NATO-Russia deal is intended to set the stage for the official beginning of NATO enlargement later this summer. Deserving candidates -- most likely Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic -- will probably be offered membership in July. And if NATO expands, U.S. troops, weapons, and nuclear warheads will be officially pledged to defend an area of Middle Europe. At a time when U.S. public opinion may be in favor of a focus on domestic problems, the country may be profoundly expanding its role in the world."

He says: "Senate approval of NATO expansion isn't expected to be easy. Many experts say it will make the Clinton administration's recent struggle to win ratification of the Chemical Weapons Treaty look like a stroll in Lafayette Square."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: The obvious argument for delaying enlargement is the cost

From Britain, defense correspondent Christopher Bellamy also takes notice of potential problems with NATO enlargement. He writes: "A number of influential Americans are expressing opposition to the drive towards early NATO enlargement." He goes on: "Opponents say that (the Clinton Administration NATO) policy was driven by U.S. politics, to appeal to voters of Central European ancestry in the key Midwestern (U.S.) constituencies." Bellamy writes: "The most obvious argument for delaying enlargement was the costs -- an estimated $40 billion for European NATO members and $100 billion for the United States."

WASHINGTON POST: All the wind went out of the anti-NATO bluster in Moscow

As objections surface in the West, David Hoffman contends in a news analysis from Moscow that fierce opposition from Moscow seems to have faded away. He writes: "For several years, Russia's political leaders have been portraying expansion of the North Atlantic alliance as a dreadful error that would unleash a backlash of nationalist and Communist fervor inside Russia, threatening its transition to democracy and a free market. But all the wind went out of the bluster (yesterday) after negotiators hammered out a new document defining the military and political relationship between Russia and an expanded alliance. Russia's political elite shrugged at the news. It sank to the last spot on most evening news broadcasts (last) night."

He reports: "Many politicians and analysts here said the deal reflected Russia's weak bargaining position, and they praised Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov for negotiating as much as he could under the circumstances."

DIE WELT: Russia has decided against confrontation with the West

In the German newspaper today, commentator Rudiger Moniac greets the pact with Russia and the principle of enlargement with enthusiasm, both for its short-term effect and for its prospects. "The agreement," he writes, "is based on common sense and mutual respect. Moreover, it provides the key to political development on the continent and leaves the door open to further developments." He says: "Russia has decided against confrontation with the West in favor of increased international cooperation."

Moniac comments: "Yesterday's good will gesture showed Russia that the development of military infrastructures in Poland or anywhere else in Eastern Europe needn't be of an offensive nature."