Robertson praises Lithuanian progress

  • 2002-02-28
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Lithuania has chosen the correct road but has not reached the destination. This was the widely expected message behind NATO Secretary General George Robertson's visit to Vilnius on Feb. 22.

Asked about the homework Lithuania should do before the November summit in Prague, Robertson answered, "More of the same."

He added that the key tasks are the continued modernization of the armed forces, anti-terrorist activities and maintaining democratic standards.

"I'm happy to be in Vilnius, the capital of a young and energetic democracy. I don't come here with any guarantees, but I do bring a message of encouragement. The shape of enlargement has not yet been decided," Robertson said.

He was impressed by the strong public support in Lithuania for entry into NATO. Public opinion in the candidate countries is extremely important to the alliance, he said, and will be taken into account at the Prague summit.

According to a poll published by Vilmorus research company last week, Lithuania's plans to enter the alliance are supported by 59 percent of respondents, while 21 percent are against.

Robertson applauded Lithuania's good relations with Russia, which he described as "unique."

He recalled a joint statement by the Lithuanian and Russian presidents, released in March 2001. When Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus visited Moscow, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said he recognized the right of every country to choose its own security system.

In Robertson's words, no compromises will be made in the new relationship between NATO and Russia formed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks over the alliance's expansion.

"The decision we make will be an independent one," he said.

So far, however, the language used by U.S. President George W. Bush, who described Lithuania last year as a leading NATO candidate," has made a big impact on Lithuanians. Asked whether he and Robertson had a difference of opinion about the alliance's expansion to the Baltic states, Adamkus said both officials have expressed satisfaction with the country's achievements.

"It has been said clearly that current candidates' NATO membership will not depend on special privileges, but on the work they do," Adamkus said.

In their meetings with Robertson, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas reassured him that there is consensus among all major Lithuanian political parties over the NATO membership issue. This allows the proper financing of the Lithuanian military, said Brazauskas.

Paulauskas said that Lithuania would continue to spend 2 percent of its GDP - a requirement for membership - after joining NATO.