|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves
Press remarks prior to their meeting
Washington, D.C., March 27, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm very pleased to welcome Foreign Minister Ilves of Estonia. Though this is our first official meeting together, I know he already feels at home. The Minister knows us well from his recent service as Estonia's Ambassador to the United States and he represents a country that is among America's closest friends.
On February 24, President Clinton congratulated Estonia on the 79th anniversary of it's independence. This holiday has special meaning for the Estonian people, since for more than 50 of those 79 years their nation was attached against it's will to an imperial power.
The United States never recognized that forced incorporation. In our main floor lobby, we displayed Estonia's flag then as we do now with those of other sovereign and independent states.
Since Estonia regained its freedom, it has emerged as a vibrant, prosperous and democratic success story. It is striving to develop constructive and normal ties with all of its neighbors.
With its Baltic neighbors, Estonia is returning in fact to the community of European and Atlantic democracies that it never left in spirit. We welcome Estonia's aspirations to participate in all of the institutions of our transatlantic community.
Last year I gave an award to three Presidents. I said, "You do not have to be in the heart of Europe to have Europe in your heart." That was true definitely of Estonia.
Among other topics that we are going to talk about today, we will talk about Estonia's deepening partnership with NATO. I will reaffirm, as President Clinton did during the Helsinki summit, that NATO will remain open to all European democracies that are able to contribute to its goals. This is fundamental. As this century ends, our purpose in Europe is to tear down old divisions, not to create new ones.
As we approach Madrid, I know that there is concern about which countries will be invited in the first round. But this is a long-term process. As it unfolds, we should remember that NATO's area of concern always has been and always will be larger than the area of its membership. And as I have been saying since the President announced this policy in 1994, we have a direct and material security interest in all of Europe.
We're already strengthening the Partnership for Peace and giving all of Europe a voice in the new Atlantic Partnership Council. And while NATO cannot offer advance promises of membership, it can offer a process for bringing our partners to NATO standards. That process will continue through Madrid and beyond.
Our goal is an integrated Europe. That goal embraces Estonia. Estonia is our partner in achieving it. And I look forward to discussing it with the Foreign Minister today.
FOREIGN MINISTER ILVES: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very glad to be here today with my colleague Secretary Albright less than a week after the US-Russian Summit in Helsinki. I consider the timing of this meeting significant considering that improving Estonian-Russian relations is one of our priorities and that the United States has always played a leading and decisive role in helping this along this route.
I look forward to hearing more details about the summit, which was something of a milestone in the continuing process of enhancing European security.
Today we will discuss not only ties between Estonia and the United States but we will concentrate on security issues as well. We are gratified that the United States remains committed to NATO's open door policy. We have our own proposals for the pre- and post- Madrid period and I look forward to hearing more about the U.S.'s plans for the crucial months ahead.
Although the U.S. is not a European Union member, the U.S. supports the enlargement of the EU having additional means to enhance security on the continent. We will discuss ways the that the U.S. can help to quicken Estonia's accession to this organization.
I look forward to a productive and open meeting here in Washington and I might add it's great to be back.
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, expanding NATO is a different breed of cat from expanding the European Union, you don't have to be Russian to wonder about the wisdom of expanding NATO to Russia's border. There are a lot of serious people that happen to think that it's very bad and it creates new lines of division. It would be a special poke in the eye for NATO to expand to the Baltics. We won't go through the history. We know how you feel - that the incorporation was unjust but Russia assert probably unjust some sort of proprietary interest in the Balkans. In any event, do you see any problem, any threat, any danger in the Baltics being beckoned by NATO at this critical time?
FOREIGN MINISTER ILVES: No! (laughter)
QUESTION: Could you explain why? Apart from your assertion of independence, and you rationalize that as against Russia's concerns that all of Europe is ganging up against Russia.
FOREIGN MINISTER ILVES: One would think that countries can decide which security arrangements they would like to make and I do point out that both Russia and Estonia, along with a lot of other countries signed the Helsinki Final Act. So maybe we should abandon the Helsinki Act then. But I certainly do not believe that the country has to give up it's aspirations to freely join an organization simply because it's neighbor objects.
QUESTION: What are these pre- and post- Madrid proposals that you're talking about and what would happen if Balks are never allowed to join in? What if this becomes impossible?
FOREIGN MINISTER ILVES: These are countries that proposals concerning partnership peace and various strategies are to proceed after Madrid; life exists after Madrid as well, so we have to figure out what we will be doing after Madrid. I cannot speculate on Estonia never joining NATO. I think that's speculation that I think is probably wrong.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, how does the U.S. feel about sending Russia's long-term strategic plan about the Baltic before(inaudible) Do you have any specific view on the verge of interfering into the domestic affairs of this country?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think it's appropriate to comment on that plan itself. But let met just say the following. We think that it is very important for Russia and Estonia to come to an agreement on their border. We also believe, as the Foreign Minister has said that the NATO process is an open one and the first countries accepted will not be the last. As the President said in Helsinki, and has said in a number of places and as I have said, "NATO is open to all democracies and the process is continuing one." I believe that it is important for the countries of Europe as well as Russia to understand the possibilities in countries who, in fact, choose which allies they want to be with. I think the Foreign Minister made that point and I would second that.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the other day the French Defense Minister said that France is going to insist on Romania being included in the first wave of NATO. Does the United States have any specific views about whether Romania is now up to standards for NATO entry?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That is a position that we will have to consider as we move along. At the moment those decisions as to which countries will come in on the first wave have not been made and we will be looking at their status. We will be looking at the appropriate decisions to make on issues. But I'm not going to comment specifically on each country.
QUESTION: There seems to be a familiar pattern of losses in the Middle East in the past. This has almost always been followed by Secretaries of State going there and indeed becoming very deeply involved, spending a lot of time there. I wonder if you can share with us your feelings about how directly and how immediately you might want to get involved in this Arab-Israeli dispute?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, just because I'm here it doesn't mean that I'm not deeply involved in the subject and I am and have been, and was, frankly, quite involved in it even as Ambassador to the United Nations. What is going on now is that Dennis Ross has gone to the area. He met earlier with King Hussan and Chairman Arafat and last time he was spoken to he was on the airplane to Israel. He will be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and then returning here to give a report to the President and to me having taken a measure of what is happening. I will go to the region as it is appropriate, as we access what Dennis is coming back with, so I expect I will be deeply involved because the issue of the Middle East peace process is one of major national interest to the United States. We have believed since time in memorial, basically, for at least the memories that we all have that it is very important as an issue for the United States and obviously to the people in the region, so I will be involved.
Thank you very much.
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