Nato Summit: The Americans

PRESIDENT Bill Clinton arrives in Brussels this morning, hours after burying his mother, and still burdened by continuing allegation and rumour about his financial and extra- marital past. The week-long visit to Europe, his first since coming to office, will include stops in Prague, Moscow and Minsk, plus a meeting in Geneva with the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad. It may be the most testing trip of any made by an American leader to Europe for many years.

Such are the stakes - one senior Western diplomat suggested that how Mr Clinton fares will prove 'crucial to Europe's future security' - that the rewards for the President, if it goes well, are substantial.

Top of the agenda for Mr Clinton at the Nato summit in Brussels is the US-sponsored plan, Partnership for Peace (already compressed to PFP), which treads a middle line between the appeals of several East European governments for early entry into Nato and Moscow's avowed opposition to such a move.

After talks with Peter Boross, the Hungarian Prime Minister, in Budapest yesterday Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Hungary had decided to 'be among the first to accept the invitation to join the PFP'. Hungary's move came after efforts failed to hammer out a joint position on Nato membership with its other three partners in the Visegrad group - Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Mr Clinton's hope is that once PFP is adopted in Brussels - almost a foregone conclusion - it will contain just enough to appease the leaders of all four countries by the time he meets them in Prague in mid-week.

The PFP plan has infuriated US critics, who believe the President has been blinded by an exaggerated concern for the sensibilities of Russia and will thus fail to grasp what they see as a historic opportunity to lock the eastern states into Nato.

Among those distressed is Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state at the end of the Bush administration. In an interview last week, he described the plan as 'a not very useful half-way house' and a 'time- buyer'. He said: 'Too much is being made of the fear of isolating Russia. To provide Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic with some kind of reassurance is at least to take a bite out of the problem. As it is, we're leaving them in a sort of never- never land.'

For months, the administration was divided over the question. Early last autumn, the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and the National Security Adviser, Tony Lake, were tending towards offering early sanctuary to the East Europeans. That trend was reversed by one man: Strobe Talbott, until now US Ambassador-at-Large responsible for Russian policy, and recently nominated by the President to become No 2 in the State Department. Many believe that Mr Talbott, a house-mate of Mr Clinton's at Oxford University and a former Time magazine columnist, is a secretary of state-in-waiting. His conviction that to move hastily to enlarge Nato eastwards would fuel nationalist paranoia in Russia was laid out in a five-page, single- spaced memo typed by himself on his home computer one weekend in early October and delivered to Mr Christopher. The missive apparently hit its target: within days, Mr Christopher and Mr Lake were warning the allies against alienating Moscow. The President also took his old chum's counsel.

Mr Eagleburger believes that the plan and the way it was arrived at also betray a failure by the Clinton administration to cast its foreign policy goals within a wider and more long- term vision.

'You can't go on for ever making up your mind on what your policy is going to be at a summit, two, three, even six weeks in advance - unless what you want is foreign policy by ad hocism,' he said. 'What we need is a picture of the US conception of what its relationship with Europe is going to be over the next decade or two, and why.'

Defenders of the approach - which still goes almost too far for some of the European allies, notably Britain - include the renowned presidential historian Michael Beschloss. 'It is the right course,' he said. 'It does not close the door to full membership later. The tectonic plates are moving in Moscow right now, and I think it is just exactly the wrong moment to give enormous ammunition to the hard-liners.'

On Russia itself, Mr Clinton has no new money to offer, but he is expected to urge President Boris Yeltsin not to waiver in imposing economic reform in the wake of the nationalists' electoral success.

That position, too, was born out of some confusion. Shortly before Christmas, Mr Talbott was widely quoted as advocating not 'shock therapy' for Russia, but 'less shock, more therapy'. The comments were speedily contradicted - not least by the US Treasury, which considered that they might be seen as an invitation to Mr Yeltsin to ease up.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick