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Central/East Europe: Leaders To Assess NATO, EU Summits at Forum

Salzburg, Austria; 9 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - On the heels of the NATO Summit in Madrid, hundreds of top political leaders and businesspeople will gather in Salzburg, Austria today for the World Economic Forum's (WEF) second Central and East European Economic Summit.

The World Economic Forum is the foremost international membership organization integrating leaders from business, government and academia. The three-day Summit aims to help create an infrastructure for economic and business development in the region, which constitutes a major market of 120 to 130 million consumers.

Building on last year's response from the regional and international business communities, the 1997 Summit will provide updates on economic progress and industry discussions. It will also provide one of the first opportunities for the business community to assess the impact resulting from the European Union and NATO Summits, held respectively in Amsterdam and Madrid.

Heads of State attending the Summit include the Presidents of Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Latvia. In addition, Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin, The U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Robert Hunter, and Caio Koch-Weser, Managing Director of Operations at the World Bank in Washington, all plan repeat appearances in Salzburg. Joining them will be some 500 Senior executives from 45 countries, 11 heads of state and government, 75 ministers and government officials and 35 independent experts.

The Summit gets underway late today with an address by Klaus Schwab, President of the World Economic Forum. Schwab's address will be followed by a panel discussion on the European economy and engines of change. Participants will include Ronald Freeman, Managing Director and Co-Chairman Global Investment Banking Salomon Brothers, Yevgeny Yasin, Minister of the Russian Federation and Akhmetzhan Yesimov, First Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan - among others.

Later in the week, Summit participants will tackle the issue of furthering trade and economic development towards the creation of a regional market, European Security after the NATO Madrid Summit, financial options on the eve of a single European currency (The "Euro"), and the new business geography of Central and Eastern Europe.

Additional discussions will be held behind closed doors on financing privatization, crime and corruption, social welfare reform, and economic relations between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and its neighbors.

Last year's Summit ended with participants pledging to press ahead with massive market-oriented reforms. The agenda, much like this year's Summit, was widespread in scope, but two abiding themes emerged. The first dealt with the prospects for political stability in Russia after the 96 elections and the other concerned the European Union and NATO's future roles in the East. Our correspondent reports that it is that second theme - European integration and NATO expansion - that is certain to play an even larger role this time around.

A little less than a year ago today, Russian officials attending the WEF's first Salzburg Central & Eastern European Economic Summit were reiterating their strong opposition to NATO's then planned Eastward expansion. Russia long opposed the plan as a threat to its security. But U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter said then that there was no turning back. Hunter added that the only enemy was "instability, insecurity and uncertainty."

With the decision now made, participants at this year's Summit will attempt to address how best to continue along the path of high growth and structural reform, while moving beyond transition toward meeting the challenges of international competition.