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NATO/EU: Analysis From Washington--Turkey, The Balts And Europe

Washington, 6 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have picked up a new and unexpected ally in their currently stalled efforts to join the European Union and NATO: Turkish President Suleyman Demirel.

In the course of this week, Demirel visited each of the three Baltic capitals, met with their presidents, and publicly declared his support for their efforts to gain NATO membership and entry into the European Union.

In the past, the Turkish government had been anything but enthusiastic about the possible expansion of the Western alliance. Indeed, there even had been speculation that the Turkish parliament might refuse to ratify any expansion arrangements.

But three recent developments have led Turkey to change its position and to support membership for the Baltic states, something many other NATO countries have been reluctant to do at least anytime soon.

First, Turkey and the Baltic countries were both concerned by the recently negotiated and approved modifications in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. The changes allowed Russia to field larger forces near their respective borders.

Second, Turkey, like many of the other smaller NATO member states, has been unhappy by what some in Ankara see as the tendency of the larger NATO countries such as the United States to talk to Russia about this issue over their heads.

And third, virtually the entire Turkish political spectrum has been infuriated by the European Union's continuing opposition to Turkish membership in that organization, a snub many Turks believe reflects a European view that Turkey is not really part of Europe.

By supporting membership for the Balts in NATO and the European Union, Turkey can take a stand on all three of these developments without having to commit itself in a way that could further damage its relations with either NATO or the EU.

If Ankara thus has good reasons to see the Baltic efforts to join the West as a useful case to state its own position, the three Baltic countries have an even better set of reasons to welcome Turkish support.

First, as recent statements by Baltic officials make clear, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are increasingly worried that they are not going to be included in either institution anytime soon.

That outcome -- which some have called "the double no" -- would leave them in what they see as a risky gray zone between Russia and the West.

Consequently, they are delighted to receive support from anyone who might be able to help produce a different and, for them, more secure outcome.

Second, all three countries are interested in expanding trade with Turkey and attracting more Turkish investments. And they are clearly convinced that having Demiral speak out on their behalf will affect Turkish industrialists and bankers.

And third, at least some in the Baltic states now see the development of relations in the zone of states between Estonia and Turkey as a counterweight to any resurgence of Russian power and as an advertisement to the West of their ability to cooperate.

In recent months, the Baltic countries have increased their diplomatic and economic contacts with Poland, Ukraine, and the countries of the Southern Caucasus. Their current involvement with Turkey is thus for them a logical next step.

But if Turkey has obvious reasons for this public position and the Balts have equally obvious ones for being delighted, neither side is under any illusion that the events in Vilnius, Tallinn, and Riga this week are likely to sway many in either NATO or the EU.

Nonetheless, both hope that these efforts will help them to find a way out of the very different but equally difficult situations they now find themselves in.