President Lauds NATO Expansion, Downplays Cost
MADRID, Spain (AllPolitics, July 9) -- President Bill Clinton Wednesday heralded the proposed expansion of NATO, praising the 44 nations that assembled to "to chart a common future of freedom."
NATO leaders meeting Tuesday accepted the president's proposal to expand the western military alliance by adding Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as new members. At a press conference Wednesday, Clinton said the pact, while not "cost- or risk-free," paved the way to a more peaceful world.
"For too much of our century, Europe has been divided by trenches and walls," he said. "In two world wars and a Cold War there was a terrible toll in lives and treasure. The work we have done this week will help to build stability and peace in Europe for the coming century."
Clinton also addressed mounting concerns among Washington lawmakers about what U.S. citizens will have to pay for an expanded NATO.
"For the American people, clearly the costs will be far less in lives and money to expand the bounds of democracy and security than it would be if we had to involve our people in another conflict in Europe," he said. (320K wav sound)
But he noted that most of the expansion's costs, estimated at $35 billion over 12 years, should be borne by new NATO members. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said today the U.S. contribution would amount to some $200 million a year.
Ultimately, Clinton said, NATO expansion would "make all of us stronger and more secure."
"The new allies will help us to better defend the territories of members, and reduce the chances that any of the territory will be violated," he said. "Bringing in new members will help lock in the gains of democracy in those countries and the free-market gains they are already achieving." (416K wav sound)
The president also disputed suggestions that Russia, whose leaders have opposed NATO expansion, was being isolated.
The agreement must still be approved by the proposed new members' parliaments, and two-thirds of the U.S. Senate must also vote for it. A battle may be looming there, with some senators publicly questioning the wisdom of NATO expansion.
"While NATO has been the cornerstone of U.S. defense policy in Europe, there is no consensus on whether expansion of the alliance into Central and Eastern Europe is a wise and feasible policy," Iowa's Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said Tuesday. A key supporter, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, says he believes the votes exist to approve Clinton's plan.
The president took questions on various topics, including the ongoing Senate hearings into campaign fund-raising and the tobacco settlement.
Asked if he championed the hiring of John Huang at the Democratic National Committee, Clinton said his longtime associate had "at some point, when I saw him in 1995, expressed an interest in going to work to try to help raise money for the Democratic Party, and I think I may have said to someone that he wanted to got to work for the DNC." (Full story)
On tobacco, Clinton defended his opposition to a settlement provision that would restrict the Food and Drug Administration from regulating nicotine, saying, "I cannot believe the tobacco companies or others would bring down the entire settlement over that." (288K wav sound)
Next on the president's itinerary is a stop in Romania, which was denied NATO membership at the Madrid conference. The president plans to encourage that country's leaders to continue planning for NATO membership in the future.
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