NATO hopes unhurt by terrorism as U.S. and Baltics move closer

  • 2001-09-27
  • Bryan Bradley
When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was in Washington addressing current U.S.-related issues, above all NATO enlargement, and commemorating 10 years since the U.S. renewed diplomatic relations. U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania John Tefft was with him, and is well-placed to judge the significance of that visit and the tragic events that cut it short. Interview by Bryan Bradley.

The Baltic Times: The debate about NATO enlargement to include the Baltic countries often centers on Russian opposition to such a move. Now with the terrorist crisis, America seems eager for good relations with Russia. Could that hurt the Baltics' NATO hopes?

Tefft: There's been a lot of speculation about this. I have certainly seen no indication of any change in American policy or in NATO's approach. Our position remains very clear, that the door is open, that no country can veto another coming into NATO.

Senator Lugar gave a wonderful speech last June in which he said, as one who's worked hard with Russia over the last 10 years but who's also a firm supporter of NATO enlargement to include the Baltic states, that the United States does not have to choose between one or the other. The U.S. should support NATO enlargement to include the Baltic countries, but also have a good relationship with Russia.

He spoke long before the terrorist attack and the current efforts to counteract terrorism, but to me the fundamental premise remains convincing.

I hope the Russian government will support the efforts to track down and bring the terrorists to justice, but that has nothing to do with NATO enlargement. We have been clear with Russia that NATO enlargement is something we support. President Bush said this in his speech in Warsaw, and it has been said at meeting after meeting.

TBT: President Adamkus hoped to rally support for Lithuanian membership in NATO during his trip to Washington. Was anything accomplished before the trip was cut short?

Tefft: Yes, we had a whole day on the Monday of that week. The president gave an excellent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He laid out Lithuania's foreign policy and spoke very openly, addressing not only Lithuania's desire to be a member of NATO, but also the issue of Russia and its views about NATO expansion.

My colleagues at the State Department and the National Security Council were impressed with the insight and pragmatism of that speech.

TBT: Are there special areas where Lithuania should focus its efforts ahead of the debate in the U.S. on NATO enlargement, to prove its readiness or clarify doubts?

Tefft: Lithuania is working hard, and I think everyone in NATO and the Americans involved believe Lithuania is doing an excellent job of preparing itself. We don't know what the decision will be at the Prague summit in 2002. But the commitment of all the political parties here to meet the Membership Action Plan is impressive.

TBT: In the war against terrorism that's taking shape, what role could Lithuania and the other Baltic countries play?

Tefft: When President Bush asks, "Are you with us or against us?" there is no doubt that the Baltic countries are with the United States. That message has gone to Washington loud and clear.

I think NATO aspirant countries are willing to participate in a manner similar, say, to how Lithuania now has troops in Bosnia and Kosovo. They have been active participants, with small units to be sure, but indicating a willingness to be part of NATO's peacekeeping role.

I know that Lithuania is ready to participate in any future activity. That remains to be defined at this point. Lithuania has made it clear it is committed to becoming a member of NATO. It is prepared to do things that would be required of a NATO member, and is already doing that in Bosnia.

TBT: This month was the 10th anniversary of U.S. recognition for newly independent Lithuania, as for Latvia and Estonia. What have been the defining moments in U.S.-Lithuanian relations over the past decade?

Tefft: I'm not sure I have a comprehensive answer, but 10 years ago President Bush renewed those relations and appointed Darryl Johnson as our first ambassador to Lithuania. It was a "renewal" of our relationship, because we never stopped having diplomatic relations with Lithuania. The non-recognition policy (of the Baltics' incorporation into the Soviet Union) was an important part of U.S. policy during the Soviet period.

Darryl Johnson was one of our most skilled diplomats and put our relationship on a sound foundation. The process began of negotiating agreements that are fundamental to governing good relationships between countries. We are still working on some of those.

We were hoping in Washington to sign an extradition treaty as well as an open-skies agreement. These still remain to be done, and we think both are important for our future bilateral cooperation.

One defining quality of our relationship is the huge amount of human contact, not only the constant exchange of visits by government leaders, but also the enormous number of Lithuanians who are going to the States and the number of people coming here, including Lithuanian-Americans who are coming back.

I am constantly impressed with the huge number of people who are dealing with each other on a day-to-day basis, in business, culture and every conceivable activity. That gives real texture and depth to the relationship between the United States and Lithuania.

Expressions of support and sympathy after the terrorist attack have been enormously touching for all of us. Often ordinary people in the street will come up to me or one of my staff and just grab our hand and say: "You have our sympathy. We are with you." And it means a lot.

TBT: Would you say U.S. investments in Lithuania have been an important part of the relationship?

Tefft: They have been in a number of ways, obviously for the businesses involved, but also because our companies have brought the American style of doing business to Lithuania, and they have employed a lot of talented Lithuanians.

Our companies, along with many Western European firms that are here, have helped provide an example of how to do business, how to be good corporate citizens, how to be successful but to encourage and train your workforce - all the good parts of our American system. There are a lot of companies here that are doing well. I think the future is bright.

It was announced a couple of months ago that Penninox is building a new factory in Klaipeda, having hand-picked Lithuania over a lot of other places. This involves an investment, at least to start, of $45 million. They will have state-of-the-art specialty steel production with 120 Lithuanian employees, some of whom are already in training in Italy and Germany. This is a vote of confidence in Lithuania.

TBT: The U.S. administration made clear to Lithuanian political leaders its support for the pending investment of Russian oil concern Yukos in the Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex, where of course the U.S. company Williams has also invested. Did the U.S. also put diplomatic pressure on Russia over this deal, which seems to reflect a watershed in the area of Russian oil supplies?

Tefft: I'm not aware of any specific diplomatic effort, and I am not an expert on the situation in Moscow. But clearly the system of oil exports has changed. The old control system has been altered, and there is now the opportunity for multiple companies to send oil through the pipeline. Mazeikiu Nafta intends to take advantage of that.

The Yukos contract is a major breakthrough. But Lukoil is continuing to ship crude, and there is hope that Kazakh oil will be coming both to the refinery and Butinge terminal. So as they finish the Yukos-Mazeikiu Nafta contract, there is great hope that with the log-jam broken, Mazeikiu Nafta will be able to realize its great capacity both as an oil refinery and as a transshipment point.