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NATO: Lobbying, Speculation Intensify Ahead Of Prague Summit

By Don Hill/Elena Nikleva

Lobbying and speculation are intensifying ahead of the expected second wave of NATO expansion at a summit in Prague in November. Some observers -- including former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski -- believe NATO is virtually certain to accept the three Baltic states and Slovenia; that Slovakia's accession is a question mark; and that Bulgaria and Romania may not yet be ready. NATO's official position is that nobody knows, and won't until November.

Prague, 21 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- When the top leaders of NATO and its member states gather in Prague in November for a summit, officials from nine aspiring alliance members will be holding their breath. NATO says one or more of the nine will certainly be admitted into the alliance, and that all nine might be.

Within current member NATO countries, in aspiring member states, and in the NATO bureaucracy itself, there are nearly as many opinions about what will occur in Prague as there are people available to hold opinions.

NATO spokeswoman Ariane Quentier, speaking from NATO headquarters in Brussels, says that anyone who pretends to know what the judgment will be nine months from now is simply guessing.

"I think right now we are in a process of consultation among the capitals, and anything more would be speculation," Quentier says.

As part of this consultation process, leaders from the nine aspirant nations are making the cases for their countries during trips abroad. Earlier in February, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov devoted his first presidential trip to visiting Brussels, seeking support for Sofia's NATO entry. In the same week, Romanian President Ion Iliescu went to the United States on a similar mission. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson is in Latvia and Lithuania this week to discuss expansion.

RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service recently spoke about NATO enlargement with Zbigniew Brzezinski, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Brzezinski is also a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the United States and served as national security adviser for U.S. President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.

Brzezinski offers several NATO scenarios. His conclusion is that the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, along with Slovenia, are virtually certain to enter NATO in the next wave of enlargement. He considers Romania and Bulgaria's entry in this next wave questionable. He entirely leaves out applicants Albania and Macedonia.

As for Slovakia, Brzezinski says it depends upon whether the country continues in its current progressive direction or it returns former authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar to power in an election scheduled shortly before the Prague summit.

"I think the next enlargement of NATO will involve either four, five, or seven countries. The four would be the three Baltic states plus Slovenia, in the event that Meciar wins in Slovakia," Brzezinski says. "The five would be the ones I have just mentioned, including Slovakia [if Meciar doesn't win]. And the seven would include Bulgaria and Romania."

As for Bulgaria and Romania, Brzezinski says he believes they will eventually become NATO members, but not just yet: "I do not think anyone envisages keeping Romania or Bulgaria out permanently from either the EU [European Union] or NATO. The only question under discussion is whether these two countries -- or any one of them -- are currently ready, in the near future, that is, to join either NATO or the EU. And that is, I think, a perfectly appropriate question to ask."

Although not responding directly to Brzezinski's views, NATO spokeswoman Quentier says only two numbers are on the alliance's table at this early date: "The only thing we can say, the only relevant figures that we have right now, are two: [Those are] one and nine. There will be at least one country being taken for the enlargement, and there will be a maximum of nine."

High-level officials in NATO nations have proven to be less restrained in their forecasts than NATO administrators. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said recently he believes a number of nations will get accession bids in Prague. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder went so far as to call Slovakia a "very strong" candidate. Schroeder did not warn against Meciar's possible return to power, but he did praise the progress of Meciar's successor, Mikulas Dzurinda.

NATO's Quentier says alliance leaders have two matters to consider in weighing each nation's candidacy: "There are two sides to look at. There's a technical-military side, whereby the countries that are part of the membership action plan and looking at accession have to reach NATO military standards. And there is, of course, the political side."

Brzezinski makes a similar point in more evocative words.

"NATO is not some sort of an award for good behavior, or compensation for suffering, or a decoration given for reasons of prestige. NATO is an alliance of countries that are prepared to make a contribution to that alliance," Brzezinski says.

His comment serves as a counterpoint to remarks offered by Guenter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner for enlargement, speaking recently to NATO's Parliamentary Assembly. He said NATO should take in Bulgaria and Romania, which are unlikely to qualify early for EU membership, to avoid the difficult situation that would result from what he called a "double rejection."