Washington, 3 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - The United States has given final notice that it will stand firm on its decision to support only three countries for membership in NATO and expects no last-minute surprises at a NATO summit in Madrid next week.
However, White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger told reporters Wednesday there probably will be "lively discussion" next Tuesday afternoon on the first day of the summit. That is when NATO heads of state are scheduled to make their formal decision on the countries they will invite into the alliance.
Wednesday was a day of mixed signals for NATO hopefuls Romania and Slovenia. In Germany, Chancellor Helmut Kohl came off a non-committal fence and declared his government in favor of early NATO membership for Romania.
But in Washington, Berger said "with respect to Romania and Slovenia .... the U.S. answer is not 'no' but 'no' at this time."
He said the U.S. expects to prevail in Madrid, and that he thinks "at the end of the day...there will be a consensus on the three" -- Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Berger pointed out again that the decision on expansion will be by consensus of all 16 NATO members and that such a consensus exists only for the three Central Europeans.
He and two other senior officials at the press conference -- Defense Secretary William Cohen and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott -- emphasized that Slovenia and Romania remain good candidates for the next round of NATO expansion
They cited more progress in building democracy and free markets as part of the rationale for supporting only Czechs, Hungarians and Poles.
As Berger put it, "in Romania's case, we really have seven months of history as opposed to seven years in Poland's case, and therefore it's premature." He was referring to the relatively new and progressive government of Romania's president Emil Constantinescu, elected last November.
Berger said the U.S. recognizes that future security challenges in Europe are likely to arise in the South and wants to encourage countries in the region such as Romania and Slovenia to continue reforms and develop their military forces.
Cohen gave another reason why the U.S. is prepared to stand firm against opposing views by most of its European allies who want to include Romania now. He said the chosen three will be producers of security, not merely security consumers.
U.S. officials now speak increasingly of expanding NATO to countries that will strengthen NATO, not increase its vulnerability -- as stated in a section on expansion in the founding NATO treaty. That means more than just having equal and compatible military forces.
Privately, some Americans as well as Central Europeans have pointed out that from a geopolitical viewpoint, aspiring members, such as the three Baltic states, may find it hard to demonstrate over fierce Russian objections that allowing them to join NATO could strengthen the alliance.
There was no specific reference to the Baltics at the White House press conference and very little discussion of Russia.
Talbott said only that there will be heavy emphasis in Madrid on the importance of NATO-Russia cooperation.
He said broadening and deepening ties between NATO and Russia is "very healthy, desirable and promising." Talbott said that in coming weeks, NATO will discuss with the Russians where and when to hold an inaugurating session of the Permanent NATO-Russia Joint Council. The council is made up of the 16 NATO members and Russia. It was established in the Founding Act signed by President Boris Yeltsin and NATO leaders in Paris in May.
Yeltsin has declined an invitation to come to Madrid and is sending instead deputy prime minister Valery Serov. Talbott said this is still representation at "a fairly serious level."
Cohen said some of the Madrid sessions will focus on ways of strengthening ties with states left out of the first round of expansion. He said the NATO Partnership for Peace program will play an important and expanding role in this effort.
After the Madrid summit, top U.S. officials are fanning out across Europe to congratulate the winners, give assurances to the losers and brief concerned parties on the Madrid conclusions.
Cohen said he is going to Bulgaria and then on to Ukraine to observe Partnership exercises there.
President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plan to be in Warsaw on July 10th and Bucharest on July 11.
Albright will then travel separately to Ljubljana in Slovenia and continue on to the Russian city of St. Petersburg. The State Department said she is scheduled to have dinner with Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov on Saturday, July 19.
The following day she is to fly to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius for a meeting with president Algirdas Brazauskas and separate talks with foreign ministers of Estonia and Latvia.
Her final stop in Europe will be a visit to Prague. The State Department says Albright will spend most of Monday, July 14, in the Czech capital before returning to Washington.