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Central/East Europe: Conference On European Security After Madrid

Salzburg, 11 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - High-level officials attending this week's Central and East European Economic Summit in Salzburg have drawn divergent conclusions on the impact of NATO enlargement on European security.

Our correspondent reports that a wide-ranging panel discussion at the meeting yesterday provided strongly contrasting appraisals of the Madrid NATO Summit's potential effects.

Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel Kovanda, opened yesterday's discussion by saying that one critical question after Madrid was how non-NATO members can ensure their security. Kovanda said the answer lies in several security components already in place - most notably, the charter signed six weeks ago between Russia and NATO. He said the charter would increase the general level of security for the continent as a whole and was, as he put it, "a positive sum gain." Kovanda also said the Ukrainian-NATO partnership charter signed two days ago in Madrid was a key anchor for the region, as was NATO's enhanced Partnership For Peace program, renamed in Madrid the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

Kovanda, whose country was included in the first wave of NATO's Eastward expansion, said another important question was how committed NATO is to expansion. He then asked rhetorically how close the Czech Republic would sit to the table following accession. Close enough, he inquired, "to chime in, listen and see?"

Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko Bloc in Russia's State Duma, expressed views quite different from Kovanda's. First and foremost, Yavlinsky said, the West should openly acknowledges the real reasons for expanding NATO. In his view, these reasons include concerns about the recent war in Chechnya, the deep crisis in Russia's military, its economic problems, unpredictable government and criminal oligarchy.

Yavlinsky said that it would be better for the Russian people to hear these reasons voiced publicly. Otherwise, he said, they will wonder why President Boris Yeltsin is so warmly welcomed at world financial meetings in Paris and Denver. But according to Yavlinsky, when it comes to setting the agendas for such meetings, everything Yeltsin says is rejected.

Yavlinsky added that NATO was designed to counter a conventional military threat, while the real threat today, he argued, comes from dangers NATO is incapable of facing. He said that chief among these threats is terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, ecological problems and losing control of nuclear weapons.

Latvia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Valdis Birkavs, was the next to speak. He said that from the point of view of the Baltic states, the Madrid Summit was a "qualified success." Birkavs also said he was confident new Alliance members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were not the kind likely to shut doors behind them, but would rather act as advocates for the Baltic states' accession to NATO.

Birkavs warned that membership in the European Union should not become a type of consolation prize for those first rejected by NATO. And he reiterated the Baltic position that applicants should receive fair treatment based on their own reforms, not geography or history.

Concluding the discussion on security after Madrid was Robert Hunter, the United States' Ambassador to NATO. Hunter defended the U.S. position on limiting new NATO memberships to three. He said that the three chosen are the strongest candidates, ready to accept the responsibilities of membership. But Hunter reiterated that the door remains what he called "wide open" for other countries seeking membership. As he put it: "If we do it right, everyone in the fullness of time will come out a winner."