Washington, 25 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO Secretary General Javier Solana has added his voice to a growing debate in the United States about NATO expansion. But in the middle of a round of public speaking engagements in the United States, he took time out today for talks on other issues, including peacekeeping in Bosnia.
The issue was expected to be high on the agenda of Solana's meeting today with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is running the State Department while Secretary Madeleine Albright is travelling in Asia.
A State Department official, who spoke with RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said Talbott and Solana will discuss NATO's presence in Bosnia and its mission after the scheduled departure of U.S. troops next summer. Their meeting is closed to the press.
Earlier, on Thursday, Solana told a group of students and reporters in Washington that NATO has taken no decision on what will happen in Bosnia after the Americans leave.
He said that many nations are now participating in the peacekeeping effort, including Poland and the Baltics, Ukraine and Russia and the Czech Republic. Altogether troops from 17 countries are there, in addition to the forces of the 16 NATO member states.
"The decision we have taken is to maintain the force which is deployed now until the middle of July 1998 and then we will have to see how we handle the next period," Solana said.
There were persistent questions about NATO operations in Bosnia during most of Solana's public appearances in Washington.
He told reporters at a separate meeting yesterday that he is personally committed to seeing justice done before NATO troops leave Bosnia.
"It is my personal committment that war criminals will be where they should be, that means in front of the (International War Crimes) tribunal before the international community leaves Bosnia," he said.
Solana added that war crimes suspects would only be arrested when tactically feasible, and not when they are surrounded by a crowd of supporters. He said NATO guidelines for arresting war criminals have not changed and are not likely to be changed in the near future.
However, Solana suggested the guidelines could be more aggressively applied, as Britain and the United States want. But he noted that Russia was upset about the NATO arrest of a war crimes suspect two weeks ago, saying a tougher NATO approach would certainly cause difficulties with Russia.
He had a packed schedule Thursday, the second day of his visit to Washington, breakfasting with reporters, meeting with a group of experts and officials, addressing students at American University,and three more gatherings on NATO expansion.
A State Department official said Solana is making speeches to diverse audiences, planning also to travel to the cities of Boston, Philadelphia and New York before leaving for Europe next Tuesday.
He said Solana recognizes that the United States is a key country in an international campaign for public support for NATO expansion and is visiting America at his own initiative to address major public concerns about enlargement.
The official said much of the opposition in Washington circles comes from former policymakers who dealt with arms control issues and are worried that NATO enlargement involves too many concessions to Russia.
He said another group, including a number of senators and congressmen, are concerned about the impact of NATO enlargement on the military effectiveness of the alliance and its mission.
"There are serious questions about defense issues that need to be answered and thoroughly explained in a public debate," the official said.
In his address to some 400 people at American University, Solana stressed that NATO expansion is a moral and political imperative and for him personally a settled issue.
"A European security architecture will never materialize if we deny the countries to our east the right to choose their own destiny," he said.
Solana said the benefits of enlargement far outweigh its costs and tried to reassure Americans that those costs are "manageable" and that every country will pay its fair share.
According to official U.S. estimates, the cost of admitting a small group of countries (the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) to the alliance will be more than $27 billion and possibly as high as $35 billion over the next ten years.
America would pay about $200 million annually of the total. But NATO allies collectively would have to pay more than three times that amount, shouldering half the financial burden of expansion, while the new members picked up the remainder -- about a third of the costs.
Solana said a detailed comprehensive report on enlargement costs is now being drawn up and will be presented at a meeting of NATO ministers in December.