The leadership of the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) with 18 national grassroots organizations representing over 22 million Americans of Central and East European heritage met with President Clinton on February 12, 1996, to discuss the national security interests of the United States. In a candid and productive meeting the group focused on the issue of NATO’s acceptance of new members and the importance of well targeted and efficiently administered foreign assistance in advancing U.S. interests.
The President described his views of U.S. relations with Russia as well as his Administration’s strategy for continued U.S. engagement and leadership in Europe. He assured the CEEC that he would not delay or abandon the timetable for NATO expansion and that such expansion will proceed according to an already established time frame. Expressing satisfaction with the Partnership for Peace he said: “Partnership for Peace has been more successful than our European allies, or even we expected it to be.”
Rev. Imre Bertalan, Chairman, and Edith Lauer, President of the Hungarian American Coalition were invited to participate in the February 12th meeting which also included Clinton Administration members, Anthony Lake, Senior Director of the National Security Council; Alexis Herman, Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Associate Director Marilyn DiGiacobbe; Dan Fried, Senior Director for East Central Europe at the National Security Council; Chip Blacker, Senior Director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs, and present from the State Department were Richard Morningstar, coordinator of U.S. assistance to the N.I.S. and James Holmes, coordinator for East European assistance.
Rev. Imre Bertalan asked if the U.S. intended to consider a country’s record on observance of human rights of its national minorities as one of the requirements for acceptance to NATO membership. Dan Fried answered that human rights is one of several areas to consider along with other important issues, such as democratic reforms in a country’s economic, political and military affairs. Mr. Fried also pointed out that it is not always easily determined when a country is “sufficiently democratic” in those respects. Each country must be judged individually according to the progress it makes on democratic reforms and according to “what they do, not necessarily what they say.”
Edith Lauer thanked the President for his visit to Taszar, Hungary, on January 13 when he recognized Hungary’s contribution to the Bosnia peace mission by serving as “home to the largest American military operation in Europe since World War II.” Ms. Lauer added: “As Hungary’s contribution to NATO is recognized, we are happy that for once in our history, geography is working for us, instead of against us.”
The President commented, as did Anthony Lake at a later time, that Hungary is certainly a great example of how well Partnership for Peace and military cooperation serve to integrate Central Europe into NATO even before a country’s formal aceptance as a member. To another question about the time table for NATO membership Anthony Lake responded that at the December 1996 NATO meeting the process of selecting eligible countries is expected to be considered.
The President expressed his thanks to members of the Central and East European Coalition for their support of his Bosnia policy as well as of continued U.S. engagement in the international arena. He asked for continued support stressing that members of the Coalition have great credibility with fellow Americans because, “You are a symbol of the long struggle against communism and for freedom.”