- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Big bang or trickle?
The message from the U.S. ambassador to NATO was blunt: None of the nine central European nations seeking membership in the alliance is qualified.
"Let me make it clear that none of the candidates has done enough to be considered a sure thing as of today," Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said in a speech this week in Washington.
"All of them have a long way to go."
Mr. Vershbow, addressing the National Defense University, said all of the nations aspiring for NATO membership must increase military spending.
He said NATO members are already debating among themselves about how to deal with another round of expansion, which is expected at next years NATO summit.
Options range from "taking just a few to taking them all," he said, calling the second option the "big bang."
"We might opt for inviting a large number of new members but stretch out their accession over time, fast-tracking those doing better in a regattalike process," he said.
The nations seeking membership Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are lobbying hard to gain support among NATO members.
Their ambassadors to the United States jointly wrote a letter last week to key U.S. senators who have expressed support for their entry into the alliance. The senators wrote to President Bush earlier this month to endorse another round of expansion.
"We understand how important it is that the Senate keeps this issue high on its agenda as a bipartisan priority," the ambassadors said. "We thank you for firm action and leadership. We assure you that our countries are committed to remaining your true allies in this important task of building a stronger and better trans-Atlantic alliance."

New China envoy
President Bush plans to nominate an old college classmate as ambassador to China.
Associated Press State Department reporter Barry Schweid yesterday identified the expected nominee as Clark Randt Jr., a lawyer and businessman based in Hong Kong.
Mr. Randt was a classmate of Mr. Bushs at Yale. He would replace Joseph W. Prueher, who was the U.S. diplomat who signed the letter that persuaded China to release the 24 crew members of the captured U.S. surveillance plane.
"Prueher, who was praised by the White House for his diplomatic efforts, reportedly was interested in remaining in the post," Mr. Schweid wrote.
"He was not named to the Pentagon-led U.S. delegation to the Beijing talks, and a well-placed U.S. official said Tuesday Bush intended to name Randt as the next ambassador."
Mr. Prueher, a retired Navy admiral, was appointed by former President Bill Clinton.

Nigerian visit
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo will travel to Washington next month for a "working visit" with President Bush.
The White House yesterday said the Nigerian leader will meet Mr. Bush on May 11. The two first spoke by telephone in February.
Mr. Obasanjo hosted President Clinton last year in the first visit to Nigeria by a U.S. president.
In Nigeria yesterday, a U.S. congressional delegation met with Mr. Obasanjo.
"We want to make sure the relationship between Nigeria and the United States grows," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, the leader of the delegation.
The Illinois Republican also promised that Congress will help promote democracy in Nigeria, which elected Mr. Obasanjo in 1999, ending 16 years of military rule.

Lebanese visit
President Bush will get a first-hand account of the latest unrest on the Lebanese-Israeli border when he meets Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri at the White House next week.
The April 24 meeting will come after Israeli struck at a Syrian radar station in Lebanon in retaliation for an attack by Hezbollah guerrillas.
"The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest, including efforts to revitalize Lebanons economy, and to consulting with him on efforts to build a stable foundation for peace in the Middle East," the White House said.

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