(Washington, DC--November 15, 2000) The nine Eastern European countries which seek to join NATO in the next round of enlargement are working together to improve their chances of being accepted, a senior Lithuanian diplomat told a RFE/RL audience yesterday.
Vygaudas Usackas, Lithuania's deputy foreign minister, said the governments of the nine believe that the challenge for themselves and NATO is to "maintain the momentum, consistency and predictability" of the enlargement process.
In May 2000, the foreign ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia formalized their cooperation at a meeting in Vilnius, Usackas said. He added that the "Vilnius Nine" had decided that their cooperation would improve the chances not only of each one but of all nine for gaining entrance to the Western alliance.
In his remarks at RFE/RL, Usackas said that "the year 2000 has been a very positive" one for his country. More than 100 Lithuanian military personnel, he said, currently serve in NATO-led SFOR and KFOR. He pointed out that over the last five years Lithuania has contributed approximately 600 soldiers to NATO-led operations.
Usackas also said that the recent parliamentary elections in Lithuania had produced yet another government in Vilnius committed to trans-Atlantic integration and good neighborly relations and that new Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas has reaffirmed the previous Lithuanian government's commitment to continue to increase defense spending until it reaches 2% of GDP.