The invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, received Nov. 21 in Prague, hasforced the wheels of national government to spin faster so that Estonia may begin accession talks in early December, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to the ministry, talks may start as early as Dec. 2, or in January 2003 at the latest.
In order to become a full-fledged member, Estonia will have to confirm it ratifies the Washington Treaty - NATO's main document - and agree upon the country's financial contribution to the Brussels-based alliance.
Harri Tiido, vice chancellor of the Foreign Affair Ministry, said the funds Estonia will have to spend on NATO are many times smaller than those required by the EU.
Tiido, however, said it was difficult to say by how much exactly Estonia would have to contribute once it acquired membership.
On Nov. 26, Estonian Cabinet formed a commission for talks on NATO accession conditions. The commission, which will discuss all accession protocols that have to be signed by aspirant countries, will be headed by Juri Luik, former defense and foreign affairs specialist of the Pro Patria Union. The commission will include 16 different experts from the ministries of Defense, Finance, Justice and Foreign affairs and the army.
According to the government's press service, the commission's top priority will be to provide for a speedy and sufficient integration with NATO, and Estonia is interested in a prompt linkage to practical work in NATO, according to Kristiina Ojuland, minister of foreign affairs.
A debate on the possible specialization, taking into account available resources and size of the country, continues in the government, Ojuland said during a meeting with her Dutch counterpart on Nov. 25.
Practical work for accession began right after the summit, according to government officials, as Estonia had to express its position on whether it would support the possible military action against Iraq.
According to Tiit Tammsaar, head of the defense committee in the Estonian Parliament, no one has asked Estonia for concrete military assistance steps yet.
"In general we definitely support the UN resolution on Iraq [that demands full information on its arsenal]. Estonian peacekeepers and other military units have the necessary experience of international operations," said Tammsaar.
"As to Iraq's case, we are ready to help within the limits of our potential, but I repeat, the U.S. has not sent us any request," he added.
The invitation to start talks on NATO accession elicited a euphoric reaction among Estonia's political elite, including President Arnold Ruutel, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, and Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts, all of whom did not attend the Prague summit.
Former Prime Minister Mart Laar, one of the first leaders who steered Estonia on the road to EU and NATO, kept his old promise and shaved his beard off as the Estonian delegation in Prague received the invitation.