- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

Russians and red lights

The Czech Republic is happy to see the new rapprochement between Russia and NATO so long as certain "red lights" remain flashing, Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Telicka said yesterday.

As host of the NATO summit this November in Prague, the Czech government will have an outsized role in shaping the agenda and atmospherics for a gathering that will take on such hot-button issues as enlarging the 19-nation alliance, coordinating the global war on terrorism and fashioning a new relationship with Moscow.

Mr. Telicka, on a visit to Washington, told our reporter David R. Sands that his government does not fear a bigger role for Russia inside NATO.

The push for closer ties accelerated after Russian President Vladimir Putin's outspoken support of the U.S. war on terrorism since September 11, leading to distinct unease across Central Europe that things were moving too fast, too soon.

"We were perhaps a little surprised at the dynamics of the debate, based on our own historical experiences," said Mr. Telicka, "but we have no prejudices on this question. Each party here will be cautious, and our first priority as new members of NATO is that nothing be done at Prague that affects the alliance negatively."

He noted that Czech-Russian bilateral relations have improved considerably in recent months, with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov visiting Prague in October and Mr. Putin expected to attend this fall's NATO gathering.

Mr. Telicka said he found "identical views" in talks with U.S. officials this week about the Russia-NATO relationship.

The Czech diplomat also denied recent media reports suggesting his country has asked for the removal of the Radio Free Europe facility in Prague, which broadcasts to both Iran and Iraq as well as to a number of European countries. The facility has been controversial inside the Czech Republic as a security headache that complicates the country's relations with Middle Eastern nations.

"We are highly interested in having Radio Free Europe in Prague," he said. "We just invited [the service] in a few years ago, and we would only be damaging our own image if we insisted it move out now."

'Ardent Atlanticists'

The new Central European members of NATO have no doubt about the relevance of the Atlantic alliance, even though some analysts have questioned the necessity of NATO after September 11.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is one NATO's biggest cheerleaders.

"NATO is relevant and shall remain relevant," he said in a recent speech at Tufts University in Boston. "NATO's enlargement stabilized the whole of Central Europe and increased the alliance's capability to solve crises. The new Central European members of the alliance are the staunchest, the most ardent Atlanticists."

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were admitted to NATO in 1999 on the 50th anniversary of the alliance.

"The events of September 11 abruptly reminded us that international terrorism is a major threat to world stability and security," Mr. Orban said. "September 11 brought about a new global anti-terrorist alliance.

"So much so that some analysts in Europe started to put out papers questioning the relevance of NATO in the new situation. At the same time, we can also see that even the most sweeping historical events do not change everything and especially not overnight."

Argentinians need visas

The Justice Department yesterday decided to remove Argentina from a short list of countries whose citizens can visit the United States without visas, citing an increase in illegal aliens fleeing that country's economic collapse.

Argentinian Ambassador Diego Guelar called the decision "understandable" and noted that each country sets its own visa requirements.

"They did not consult us to put us on the list and did not consult us to take us off," he said.

"Argentian is in crisis. Everybody knows that," Mr. Guelar said. "We have extremely friendly relations with the United States. This is not an anti-Argentinian decision."

The Justice Department revoked Argentina's privileges under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of 28 countries to enter the United States without visas for up to 90 days.

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