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Estonia: Foreign Minister Says NATO's Door Must Stay Open

Washington, 21 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves says it is important that NATO accept at least one Baltic state in the next round of enlargement.

Ilves told a press conference in Washington that if NATO accepts at least one of the three Baltic states into the alliance, then all three nations will be considered legitimate candidates for membership and not relegated to a so-called sphere of Russian influence.

Ilves was in the U.S. last week for a working visit. He met with top officials from the U.S. Departments' of State, Commerce and Defense. Last Monday, he attended the funeral of former Estonian Ambassador Ernst Jaakson in New York.

At the press conference Friday, Ilves emphasized the need for NATO to redefine and recommit itself to an open door policy. He said he is greatly disturbed by the argument that NATO should not be extended to cover the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Ilves said the Baltic states were militarily and forcibly occupied by the Soviet Union, so those in the international community who to continue to refer to the Baltics as part of the former USSR are being "immoral and intellectually untenable."

Explained Ilves: "I'd say the Soviet Union was one of the most disgusting and awful things that ever was created, certainly in this century. And its death was one of the most wonderful things that has happened. To have it live on in the sense of the territory of the former Soviet Union is, I think, fairly obnoxious."

Ilves said he is concerned that some NATO nations may have "enlargement fatigue." But he said that Estonia has prepared itself well for joint NATO military operations and has gone "beyond anyone's highest expectations" in preparing for entry.

In other foreign policy areas, Ilves said he is pleased with Estonia's progress toward acceptance into the European Union (EU).

He said that Estonia opened its accession negotiations with the EU only in March, and this month submitted a progress report to the EU. Ilves said he believes Estonia's accession into the EU is "near."

Ilves said that Tallinn is concerned about Russia's economic crisis, but that Estonia's economy is strong and will not be too adversely affected. He acknowledged, however, that because of the Russian crisis, Estonia's growth rate will likely be lower for the second half of 1998 than it was for the first six months of this year. He said Estonian dairy farmers and fisherman will probably suffer the most since that is where trade between the two nations is the highest.

Ilves said he hopes the new Russian government will be able to deal effectively with the crisis. "It is in no one's interest to see a large and a great country move toward chaos. So, we hope that the current government -- even though it seems to have chosen a path very different from the one Estonia has chosen -- succeeds in stabilizing the country," he said.

Ilves also spoke about his formation of a new political party, The People's Party. He said he created the new party to unify conservative forces in the country, not to satisfy any personal presidential ambitions.