The last time Lithuania's president was in Washington to see President George W. Bush, he had to postpone the meeting. That was on 11 September 2001. Now, President Valdas Adamkus will finally see Bush and press for continued U.S. backing for NATO enlargement to the Baltic countries and further American investment in Lithuania.
Washington, 17 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- President Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania will push for continued U.S. backing for NATO enlargement to the Baltic countries when he meets with President George W. Bush today.
Adamkus will also be hoping that he -- and the country he grew up in, America -- will have better luck than the last time he was in Washington to meet Bush: 11 September 2001. Adamkus had to postpone that meeting due to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The Lithuanian president, who came to America after World War II and returned to Vilnius after the Soviet Union's collapse, has a two-day schedule of talks highlighted by a 30-minute afternoon chat with Bush and a meeting with the head of the International Monetary Fund. Adamkus also has planned meetings with U.S. business leaders, Jewish community representatives, and Defense Department officials.
Lithuania's ambassador to Washington, Vygaudas Usackas, says the enlargement of NATO and the war on terrorism will be at the top of the agenda. In an interview with RFE/RL, Usackas recalled Bush's speech in Poland last summer in which he backed the vision of an expanded NATO.
"President Adamkus is coming back to meet President Bush and other leaders to discuss the international effort to fight terrorism as well as very important projects for the United States, for Europe, for Lithuania and Central European countries -- that is, the completion of the unification of Europe, whole and free, which was stated by President Bush as one of his foreign policy objectives in his speech in June last year in Warsaw."
NATO is committed to inviting in at least one of nine applicants from former communist Europe when it holds a summit in Prague next November. The Baltic states, along with Slovenia, are considered to have the best chances of joining.
Slovakia is also considered a front-runner, though NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson signaled on 16 January that the re-election of former authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar would not be looked upon favorably by NATO. The Slovak election will take place just before the Prague summit.
Moscow, which occupied the Baltic states for more than four decades, opposes expanding NATO to Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia. But Russia has toned down its rhetoric on the subject since September, when President Vladimir Putin moved to assist the U.S. reaction to the terrorist attacks.
Ivo Daalder, an analyst with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says he sees Lithuania as one of the strongest candidates for NATO membership: "President Bush, in his speech in Warsaw last year, made very clear that the United States will want to expand the alliance and enlarge its membership at the time of the Prague summit in November. And Lithuania will be right at the top of the list."
Daalder also says that Russian objections are unlikely to be a problem. He says that Moscow's relationship with NATO has started to improve that Putin is unlikely to make a fuss over NATO enlargement: "It's clear for Mr. Putin already that what Russia wants is not going to be the deciding factor. NATO will enlarge in Prague in 2002. It will likely do so by including one, if not all of the Baltics states, and for Russia to oppose this and lose is perhaps worse than just being quiet and accept the new reality and hope that NATO as it enlarges, also changes."
Usackas says Lithuania has much to give to NATO and has offered full support to the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and is helping through intelligence sharing and the use of Lithuanian airspace by U.S. military aircraft. He says a Lithuanian medical team working with Czech counterparts is also getting ready to leave for Afghanistan.
NATO's Robertson also told reporters in Brussels yesterday that new NATO members will have to offer the alliance something, both militarily and politically, and that membership will not simply be doled as a gift.
Usackas says Vilnius will offer just as much as any country its size in terms of its military contribution. But he says Lithuania also has other attributes -- such as expertise in dealing with Russia and personal knowledge of leadership, including Putin -- that could be of use to NATO as it seeks to redefine its relationship with Russia.
"Lithuania brings to NATO a re-confirmation of the importance of shared values: how a country, which was occupied 40 years, has maintained a stronghold of shared values -- freedom, market economy, and democracy. At the same time, it will bring its experience and knowledge to deal with immediate neighbors -- be it Russia, a very important international player, or other countries which are still a headache to deal with, like Belarus."
Adamkus is also expected to discuss a new, comprehensive report on the state of the economies of the Baltic countries when he meets this morning with IMF Managing Director Horst Kohler. Usackas says that according to an advanced draft he has seen, the report is largely positive.
The president will also have a stop-by meeting with Rabbi Andrew Baker, an official with the American Jewish Committee. The two are expected to discuss improving ties between Vilnius, once a great Jewish center dubbed the "Jerusalem of the north," and the world Jewish community. They will also discuss plans for Lithuania to turn over the Torah scrolls -- historic Jewish documents that are still in its possession.
Adamkus will then press the case for further U.S. investment over lunch with American business leaders, followed by a meeting with the Commerce Department officials and a dinner with the U.S. Committee on NATO.
His itinerary on 18 January includes a meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as well as a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, where he will lay a wreath at the memorial for the victims of the September attacks.