Washington, 22 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- While U.S. officials acknowledge that NATO's Washington summit this weekend will be overshadowed by the crisis in Kosovo, they stress that many other issues of substance will be discussed at the gathering.
In fact, officials say NATO's military campaign against Yugoslavia underscores the importance of discussing key reforms to the alliance as well as NATO's relationship with its many partner countries.
Stephen Sestanovich, special advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States, made just such a point on Wednesday at a pre-summit briefing for journalists in Washington:
"This will not be a set of ceremonial meetings - wholly pre-scripted, in which the participants affirm general principles and depart. This is a set of meetings at which leaders will be addressing a current problem and developing modes of cooperation to deal with it now and in the future."
Sestanovich pointed to three important meetings which will occur on Saturday and Sunday, and which NATO leaders hope will provide new impetus to the alliance and make the summit a productive occasion. For the first time since its creation in 1997, the Europe Atlantic Partnership Council, which groups together NATO's 19 member states with its Partnership for Peace allies, will meet at the head of state or government level.
Sestanovich said several concrete initiatives can be expected from this meeting -- among them, a framework for coordinating joint missions -- along the lines of the SFOR operation in Bosnia, the establishment of Partnership for Peace training centers in Ukraine and other states, the implementation of a common computer network to jointly plan operations and share intelligence and the establishment of new defense academies to train future generations of military strategists.
The second meeting will involve NATO's 19 members and seven so-called "front-line states" to the Kosovo conflict. Sestanovich said these will include Albania, Slovenia, Romania, Macedonia and Bulgaria, which are in the Partnership for Peace, as well as Bosnia and Croatia, which are not. Although NATO has not provided specific security guarantees to non-members in the region, it has repeatedly warned Yugoslavia against trying to destabilize its neighbors and maintains a close cooperation with those countries.
The third meeting will be of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. For the first time, the commission will meet at summit level, involving talks between President Leonid Kuchma and President Bill Clinton. Preparations for this have been long in the making and Sestanovich took pains to stress the importance of the distinctive relationship between NATO and Ukraine. He said the crisis in Kosovo provides an opportunity for the United States, NATO and Ukraine to work closely together.
"The agenda for the NATO-Ukraine commission is going to cover a great many practical questions of expanding the NATO-Ukraine relationship. As with all the meetings of this summit, it's understandable that the participants will want to talk about Kosovo. President Kuchma has issued a program -- a set of proposals -- for the resolution of the conflict. There are many points in common between his plan and the position taken by the NATO ministers last week in Brussels. And I'm sure that there will be further discussion of how to bring our thinking and that the Ukrainian government still closer."
Asked to comment on Russia's announcement that it will boycott the summit, Sestanovich expressed regret at the decision. But he said he believes that common interests, among them the desire for stability in the Balkans, will bring the two sides back together soon.
On the subject of NATO's further expansion, Sestanovich was deliberately vague. He acknowledged that after accepting Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary last month, the alliance is not yet ready to extend invitations to more members.
He confirmed that no timetable for future membership will be laid down at the Washington summit. But Sestanovich reiterated that prospective applicants will be given more detailed guidelines at the summit to help their bid. Although here again, he hinted that the guidelines will be fairly general and come in a one-size-fits-all package. There will be no recommendations specifically tailored to individual countries.