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NATO: U.S. Expects Expansion Next Year

Four days after U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Slovenia, the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, testified before Congress about Washington's policy in Europe. Much of the session focused on NATO -- expanding the alliance and its continuing work in the Balkans. Our correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 21 June 2001 (RFE/RL) - America's senior diplomat says he expects NATO's membership to expand by at least one member during the alliance's summit next year in Prague. And he says the three Baltic states have a fairly good chance of becoming members then.

Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the assessment during more than two hours of testimony in Washington on 20 June before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He and the senators discussed a wide range of topics, but their focus was on NATO.

Powell was emphatic in saying that Washington would not accept a "zero option" for NATO at the Prague meeting. "Zero option" means no expansion of the alliance. In fact, he said Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had what he called a "pretty good chance" of being accepted if they continue making progress toward the alliance's military and political requirements. He declined to elaborate.

Senator Jesse Helms (Republican-North Carolina), a senior member of the committee, said America would be abandoning its moral and strategic imperatives if it did not ensure the admission of the Baltic states -- which he called "former captive nations."

Another senator asked about the prospect that other former communist states -- he specified Ukraine -- could join the Atlantic alliance. Powell said that would be possible, and that the U.S. could help such countries qualify for NATO membership.

"Ukraine is a challenge right now. The government is going through some difficult times. But we've made it clear to Ukraine leaders that we believe they belong to the West as well, and we want to help them. It isn't a matter of NATO membership, but there are other ways that we can interact with Ukraine. We can help them with their economy. We can make sure that they understand what is expected with respect to human rights and democracy and accountability of everybody within a society, no matter how high."

The secretary also addressed the NATO effort to end the fighting in Macedonia. He said the U.S. is trying on several fronts to help restore peace there. Politically and diplomatically, Powell said, Washington is leading the NATO effort to persuade the government of President Boris Trajkovski to go beyond mere talk about making legal and constitutional changes that would bring ethnic Albanians more completely into the country's civic mainstream.

"So we are pressing that as hard as we can, because it is only through a political solution will they be able to keep moderate Albanians, Macedonians, from joining the extremists."

In fact, Powell said, such changes could accomplish a further goal -- attracting the rebels to join the moderates in the nation's mainstream.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Washington yesterday that the leaders of the alliance are considering deploying about 3,000 troops to disarm the rebels if a peace agreement is reached.

At the Senate hearing, Powell was asked if the U.S. plans to contribute to this force. He said Washington already was doing plenty to achieve peace there, and it is too soon to speak of troops as well.

"So I think we are involved [in Macedonia] militarily, we are involved politically, we are involved diplomatically, and we are, I think, doing everything that has been asked of us so far. But we have not yet made any commitment of troops to the purpose of this potential disarmament mission, because we really don't see a need to make such a contribution yet."

On other matters, Powell said that a U.S. missile defense system would not mean a total scrapping of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972. The secretary acknowledged that deploying the system -- or even conducting certain advanced tests -- would violate the pact.

But he said the treaty did not anticipate the kind of system that U.S. President George W. Bush is considering. Powell said an amendment is all that is needed to ensure that the treaty remains intact, and that the missile defense system threatens neither Russia nor China, which object to any deployment.

Powell also expressed concern about the future of Central Asian and Caspian states.

"We have nations that are coming out in that part of the world with no tradition of democracy, with a tendency toward authoritarian kinds of rulers. There is great potential for instability in that part of the world -- terrorism, narcotrafficking. And we have to work with Russia to see if we can find common ways of approaching the problems of that region."

Powell also cited the oil wealth in the two regions. He said Washington must make sure that the wealth from the oil and natural gas goes to the people of these nations. The secretary added that the energy being sent from these areas by pipeline must not go through areas that can choke off the flow.

Meanwhile, Powell refused to be drawn into the dispute over whether U.S. President George W. Bush spoke appropriately after his summit meeting with Putin on 16 June in Slovenia. Bush described Putin as "trustworthy."

Senator Helms said such a personal endorsement was not called for. Helms accused Moscow of restoring restrictions on press freedom, violating arms-control treaties, threatening the security of neighboring Georgia and Ukraine, and waging what he called an "indiscriminate" war in Chechnya.

Powell disagreed with Helms' and other senators' complaints about Bush's characterization of Putin. He said the statement was in no way outlandish, and that the critics have been making too much of the American president's choice of words.