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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said during a lecture on Jan. 24, that in spite of objection by Estonia's largest neighbor, the United States wants "the door to NATO membership [to] remain open" to the former Soviet republics, including Latvia and Lithuania.
"The Baltic states in particular should not be punished for having prevailed over occupation and dictatorship," Talbott told an audience of diplomats, media and guests in Tallinn's Sakala Center. "Because of what you have done, are doing and will continue to do, we are committed not only to keeping the door open but also to creating the conditions under which you and your Baltic neighbors can cross the threshold."
Talbott said that the United States also will work during the final year of the Clinton administration to change the attitude of NATO'S largest adversary. But he made no promises that Russia would ever support Baltic inclusion.
"We will work on making Russia not opposed, but Russia has its own view. It is the sovereign right of every sovereign state," he said at a press conference following the lecture.
The last year of the Clinton presidency will also be used to convince some American critics that the security alliance's expansion is good for them too.
"This policy is not just good for countries like yours that aspire to membership, but it is good for everyone since it is the best way to ensure that this region as a whole never again becomes a zone of insecurity and instability," he said.
Talbott, who was on his fifth visit to Tallinn, received a round of applause when he reassured the audience at the Robert C. Frasure (former U.S. ambassador to Estonia) Memorial lecture that NATO enlargement is in the interests of the United States and a goal the Baltics and the United States would work for together.
"The fate of the Baltic states is nothing less than a litmus test for the fate of this entire continent – it's not just a test for you to pass, but for us to pass together," he said.
"There is broad base support [in the United States] for the open door principle – but we have more work to do. We will use our remaining time in office to increase the momentum for NATO," he said.