Clinton offers vision of wider Europe

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WESTERN EUROPE should open up to eastern Europe and Russia, Bill Clinton said yesterday, warning of the threat of ultra-nationalism if integration failed: 'We must not let the Iron Curtain be replaced with a veil of indifference.'

In a landmark speech to cement transatlantic unity on his first European visit since election, the US President said that 'America's commitment to Europe's safety and stability remains as strong as ever'. At today's Nato summit, Mr Clinton and alliance leaders will seek to heal old wounds over Bosnia and give new vitality to the security link.

The President told an audience of young people in Brussels that it was vital for the West to support reform in the East. 'Europe's western half cannot long be secure if the eastern half remains in turmoil. Nowhere is democracy more important to us all than in Russia.'

Mr Clinton and his administration want to turn the West's 40-year-old strategy of containment - putting limits on Russian expansionism - into one of enlargement - bringing states into the liberal, democratic, capitalist club. Today's summit will put enlargement of Nato on the agenda, though without setting a timetable or criteria. The alliance will say that it 'expects and welcomes' new members, a formula that has brought lukewarm acceptance from central and eastern Europe.

The President underlined that the most important challenge facing Europe was in the east. The region faced a 'race between rejuvenation and despair'. The West must offer assistance, trade, military co-operation, support for democracy and a place at the table. He wanted 'to help lead the movement to that integration, and to assure you that America will be a strong partner in it'.

But this support for Moscow's efforts was matched by a warning that reformers had enemies. 'Pitted against them are the grim pretenders to tyranny's dark throne, the militant nationalists and demagogues who fan suspicions that are ancient, and parade the pain of renewal in order to obscure the promise of reform.'

Though Mr Clinton did not mention Russia's ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, he said the West's stance would help decide whether Russians 'elect leaders who incline back towards authoritarianism and empire'. The speech reflects the summit's dual intention where Russia is concerned: to offer co-operation to those committed to reform, while maintaining Nato's guard against illiberal forces in Moscow. The balance of the speech was towards the former, apparently reflecting the influence of Strobe Talbott, the new number two in the State Department and an advocate of assistance to Russia.

The President mounted a strong defence of Partnership for Peace, the US plan to build new pacts between Nato and eastern European states. 'This partnership will advance a process of evolution for Nato's formal enlargement.'

The initiative has been criticised because it fails to provide firm pledges on membership of the alliance, but Mr Clinton said this would exclude some states, by drawing 'a new line between East and West that could create a self-fulfilling prophecy of future confrontation'.

Alliance sources say that differentiating between former east bloc states would antagonise Russia and create a de facto Russian sphere of influence among those not included. Mr Clinton said: 'I say to all those in Europe and the United States who would simply have us draw a new line in Europe further east: that we should not foreclose the possibility of the best possible future for Europe.'

The summit will also consider the war in Bosnia, with some countries pushing for further action, including moves to stop Serbian bombardment of Sarajevo. 'We must seriously consider whether to carry out air strikes,' said Jean-Luc Dehaene, Belgium's Prime Minister, after meeting Mr Clinton. General John Shalikashvili, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and until recently Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said: 'I think the situation is very serious around Sarajevo and we are very concerned about what is surely excessive shelling.'

The US will also be pushed by France to confirm its intention to commit troops to any peace plan in Bosnia.

(Photograph omitted)

Nato agonises, page 6

Leading article, page 13

Views from the east, page 15