Hastert: Lithuania must get NATO invitation in 2002

  • 2001-03-29
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Once again restating his personal support for Lithuania's aspirations to join NATO, U.S. House of Representatives Chairman Dennis Hastert thinks Lithuania would make an effective member of the alliance.

No other U.S. official has spoken so strongly in favor of NATO expansion to Lithuania as Hastert. He visited Vilnius for the first time in 1999 and spoke in favor of the country's NATO membership. He demonstrated even greater support during the current visit.

"My personal opinion is that Lithuania would be a very good member of the NATO community. And I will do everything that is in my power to help that become a reality," Hastert told a Vilnius news briefing held after meeting Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus on March 23.

The U.S. official stressed that "Lithuania has taken all steps necessary to become a NATO member."

Asked by journalists about the country's chances of joining the alliance if Russia fails to ratify a border treaty between the two, Hastert answered negatively stating that this is an issue of bilateral Lithuanian-Russian relations.

Lithuania is the only country in the former Soviet Union that has managed to sign such a treaty with Russia. However, the Russian Duma is reluctant to ratify the treaty signed between Lithuania and Russia in 1997 on the delimitation of the state border and separation of the maritime border, economic space and continental shelf in the Baltic Sea. It was ratified in the Seimas (the Lithuanian parliament) in 1999.

In Hastert's opinion, Lithuania has done everything necessary for membership in the 19-member organization. It has developed cooperation with neighboring countries, boosted economic levels and participated in international peacekeeping operations. He praised the Lithuanian commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Adamkus said he was happy at Hastert's promise to support student exchange programs. Hastert wants an increasing number of young Lithuanians to have a chance to visit the U.S.A. and feel the meaning of the democratic idea.

During his one-day stay in Vilnius, Hastert also met Lithuanian Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and delivered a speech at a Seimas sitting. In his speech, Hastert emphasized that the United States never recognized the legality of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states.

"For those 50 years, America steadfastly refused to acknowledge this illegal and immoral Soviet action. It would be equally wrong now for NATO to fail to embrace the wishes of freedom-loving Lithuanians," he said.

Hastert, a Republican, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986. He represents the state of Illinois, in which many Lithuanian emigrants live, especially in its largest city, Chicago. There are about a million Lithuanian-Americans in the United States.

Hastert was elected chairman of the House of Representatives in January 1999. Last November he was elected for a new term of office in the House and retained the post of chairman.

According to the U.S. Constitution, the speaker of the House of Representatives is the third top U.S. official after the president and vice president.

Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas presented Hastert with the title of honorary citizen of Vilnius. He is the second American to get this title. The first was President Ronald Reagan.