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Further cause for NATO optimism

  • 2001-12-13
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis, VILNIUS
Lithuania received further assurances last week that it would be admitted into NATO in the next wave of expansion, this time from Strobe Talbott, former U.S. deputy secretary of state to the Clinton administration, who added that Russia could not be an obstacle to the inevitable.

He said during a visit to Lithuania Dec. 5-7 that the country stood a good chance of being invited at the NATO summit in Prague in a year's time.

"Lithuania has much to be proud of. The possibilities of Lithuania, the other Baltic countries and Slovakia of joining NATO are realistic," said Talbott, the architect of U.S.-Baltic relations during the Clinton era.

On Dec. 6, he gave a lecture at Vilnius University entitled "America, Lithuania and the World After September 11," in which he emphasized that all the world's countries are inexorably tied together in this new age of globalization.

Countries sharing the same values should be close allies, he continued. He said that good U.S.-Russian relations would have no influence on Lithuania's chances to join NATO.

Talbott also took the opportunity to defend a now-controversial decision he made related to Lithuania during the Clinton era.

The Clinton administration supported the arrival in 1999 of a strategic investor, U.S. oil company Williams International, which bought a third of the shares together with the prerogative to make key decisions at the Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex.

Mazeikiu Nafta is in deep financial hot water. It incurred losses of 175.3 million litas ($48.83 million) from January to October this year, as compared with losses of 179 million litas over the whole of 2000.

It's been facing a barrage of negative publicity in the Lithuanian press as a result, and the government of Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas is threatening to break its contract with Williams, which it blames for the oil complex's failures.

Williams recently announced it would not redeem a $75 million bond issued for a stake in Mazeikiu Nafta.

Furthermore, the complex failed to pay monthly installments of over 10 million litas in interest for both October and November. These installments are required to pay back a 1.5 billion litas loan they received from the Lithuanian government.

Talbott maintains that trouble-prone Mazeikiu Nafta is now in "good hands." He said that the Clinton administration thought that a properly implemented agreement between Williams and the Lithuanian government would be useful for the region.

He reassured that the Brazauskas' government was still willing to cooperate with Williams. "Williams and the Lithuanian government are working very hard. I hope they'll succeed," Talbott said.

During his visit, Talbott visited the Museum of Genocide Victims, which is situated in the grim cells of the basement of the former KGB building. On his last day in Vilnius he bought a "rupintojelis," a traditional Lithuanian wooden sculpture depicting a Christ-like figure seated in a sorrowful pose. According to Talbott, the rupintojelis symbolizes the tragic history of Central Europe.

Talbott is currently director of Yale University's Center for Globalization Studies.

After serving a year as Washington's ambassador-at-large and special adviser to the secretary of state for the former Soviet Union, he was appointed deputy secretary of state on Feb. 22, 1994.

Talbott was an active advocate of the Baltic states in the Clinton administration, supporting increased ties between Washington and the Baltics as well as economic and military development aid.

He was also the main coordinator of U.S. policy with the Baltic states and was one of the initiators of the U.S.-Baltic Charter signed in 1998. He worked with Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, both secretaries of state in the Clinton administrations.