- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

PRAGUE Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright praised the Bush administration yesterday for inviting seven former communist countries to join NATO this week, but she cautioned against premature expansion of the alliance farther east to the Caucasus and into Central Asia.
Mrs. Albright, who on behalf of the United States signed the documents admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999, predicted a tough approval process in the U.S. Congress for the seven future members.
It "will depend a lot on the determination" of President Bush's team "to get it through," she said.
"They have pursued the open-door NATO policy that we talked about," she said. "It's a big step forward to have taken in all seven. This is very much what I wanted to see and the purpose of the whole exercise to get an undivided Europe and I think we got it. There are no more flash points on the continent, which we haven't seen for centuries."
In an interview in Prague, her birthplace, where NATO held its two-day summit this week, Mrs. Albright noted that the seven prospective members of the alliance are "much more pro-American" than the current members. "They see their change of status as due to the United States, because we have really welcomed them," she said.
Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia won invitations Thursday. Albania and Macedonia were deemed not ready yet.
Mrs. Albright was invited to Prague by Czech President Vaclav Havel to observe the summit, the first event of its kind ever held behind the former Iron Curtain.
She travels to Romania today to promote a government project, which is aided by the pharmaceutical firm Merck, to treat Romanian children for HIV and AIDS.
About 9,000 Romanian babies, mostly in orphanages, were infected with contaminated blood transfusions during the waning days of communism, and more than 1,000 since have died.
Mrs. Albright will visit a clinic where anti-retroviral treatment is available to all children who need it.
"Romania must take the lessons of the pediatric AIDS initiative to the rest of its health care system to show that effective partnerships between governments, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations can provide a system that puts the patient first," she said.
On the topic of future NATO expansion, Mrs. Albright said, "I don't think it's worth it at the moment to think how far East the alliance should go."
She recalled the tough questions that were asked in Congress before it approved membership for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The newly invited nations will face similar scrutiny.
Congress is certain to insist that new NATO members sign bilateral accords with the United States that would exempt American servicemen from jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court.
The United States fears that opponents of U.S. military involvement abroad will use the court to harass Washington with frivolous and politically motivated charges against American soldiers.
Of the seven new NATO members, only Romania has signed such an accord.


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