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Lithuania: Leader Gives Reasons For Joining NATO

Washington, 11 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus is countering what he calls the two chief arguments against NATO membership for the Baltic States.

Speaking yesterday in Washington, Adamkus said those who oppose membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for his country, as well as Estonia and Latvia, contend that the Baltic people are somehow different from citizens of NATO countries. And he said others object because including the Baltic states in NATO will anger Russia.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an independent policy institute, Adamkus said Baltic people share the same values as Americans and residents of Europe's members in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"If you come to Lithuania today, you will find a country that is pro-Western, open and tolerant, and trying hard to make up for the time lost [under communism]. You will find an economy that is among the fastest growing in Northern Europe, and is increasingly oriented to trade with your [NATO] countries. You will find young people who have eagerly embraced [the] West as a model."

And Adamkus said that Lithuania, at least, has no intention of angering Russia if it has the opportunity to join the Western alliance. In fact, he said, if the Baltic states become NATO members, they will look east for improved and mutually beneficial economic and political relations with Russia.

"The greater the progress we make in achieving our goals of integration into [the] Euro-Atlantic community, the greater [the] responsibility we have to look east and to develop a process that bridges us with the countries in that region."

After his address, Adamkus was asked about concerns that NATO might lose its focus if too many more countries join. He dismissed that concern, saying the nature of the alliance would make that unlikely.

"As long [as] they have a very clear vision [of] what they are trying to accomplish, if NATO is considered as an internal security system of all the European countries, to me it doesn't make any difference if there are 30 countries or 10 countries."

Besides the three Baltic states, other nations hoping to join NATO are Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. All but Croatia are hoping to be accepted into the alliance during its summit, scheduled to be held in Prague in November, 2002.

Adamkus will be in Washington all this week. He is scheduled to meet today [Tuesday] with U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney and on Friday with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

At various times during his stay, he will also consult with influential members of Congress, including Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois), the speaker of the House of Representatives, and Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), the Senate minority leader.

Adamkus also will meet with American Jewish leaders about issues related to the Holocaust, and will attend ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of Lithuania's independence.