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Clinton praises Slovak NATO readiness

An elated Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda emerged from a 45-minute meeting with United States president Bill Clinton September 21 to announce he had been told that Slovakia had the best chance to become the next country to join NATO.
Dzurinda called the visit, the first official bilateral meeting between a Slovak Prime Minister and a US president, "a milestone in Slovakia's development."
In the press conference, Dzurinda said he and Clinton had discussed two main issues - NATO enlargement and foreign investment. Dzurinda said Clinton had expressed the belief that Slovakia would not be left out of the next round of NATO enlargement, and had promised US help in restructuring the Slovak army.


US President Bill Clinton gave Slovakia the thumbs up during an historic meeting with Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. See story, page 6.
foto: TASR

An elated Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda emerged from a 45-minute meeting with United States president Bill Clinton September 21 to announce he had been told that Slovakia had the best chance to become the next country to join NATO.

Dzurinda called the visit, the first official bilateral meeting between a Slovak Prime Minister and a US president, "a milestone in Slovakia's development."

In the press conference, Dzurinda said he and Clinton had discussed two main issues - NATO enlargement and foreign investment. Dzurinda said Clinton had expressed the belief that Slovakia would not be left out of the next round of NATO enlargement, and had promised US help in restructuring the Slovak army.

During his three-day visit to the US, Dzurinda also addressed the 54th United Nations Plenary Assembly and made a case for Slovakia's gaining a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. Slovakia is in competition with the stronger Ukraine for the seat. "We've gained a lot of experience from the international community's actions in conflict areas. I believe the UN Security Council is the best place to use such experience," Dzurinda told the assembly.

Later, the prime minister met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Making a name for Slovakia

In the meeting with Clinton, Dzurinda said he had spoken of recent political and economic developments in Slovakia. He said Clinton had praised the developments, as well as the direction Slovakia has recently taken. Clinton also expressed his support for the Slovak government, Dzurinda said.

Clinton, who did not immediately make his own press statement, also expressed US support for the Slovak privatisation process and said he hoped there would be an influx of US investments to Slovakia, Dzurinda said.

Martin Barto, director of strategy at Slovak state bank Slovenská Sporiteľňa (SLSP), said that Clinton's statement of support alone would be sufficient to boost investor confidence in Slovakia.

"Such statements from politicians are always welcomed. It is a sign that the US President considers Slovakia a good place to invest," Barto said, adding that positive signals from the EU summit in Helsinki would also be a major boon to the investment environment.

The Clinton-Dzurinda summit took place against a background of warming Slovak-US relations. US First Lady Hillary Clinton is due to visit Slovakia on October 6 to meet with leaders in Slovakia's non-governmental organisation sector. In the middle of November, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is due to visit on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution.

Dzurinda also passed Clinton an invitation from Slovak President Rudolf Schuster for an official visit to Slovakia, which Clinton accepted, though he did not set a date.

In his September 21 address to the UN Assembly, Dzurinda tried to make the case that Slovakia deserves the 2000-2001 security council seat even though it is a small country and therefore does not have the economic or political power to gather as much support as the Ukraine.

Chief of Slovak diplomacy Eduard Kukan placed Slovakia's chances at getting the seat "at about fifty-fifty," he told the press. He added that he thinks the decision will not be made in the first round of voting, which will be held in mid-October, but in the next session. According to UN rules, a candidate must capture a two-thirds majority vote of the UN's 188 members to be awarded a security council seat.

But despite Kukan's optimism, political analysts at home said the Ukraine's chances were much better than Slovakia's. The Ukraine, Slovak Foreign Policy Association analyst Ivo Samson said, is a natural choice because it is at a pivotal point in its history, teetering between close ties to Russia and the west. It is also a much larger country.

"I think there is no doubt about Ukraine's success," Samson said. "Ukraine is very important for development in Europe. Slovakia can not compete, but it was good for Slovakia to play a such visible game on the international stage."

During his brief meeting with Annan on Tuesday evening, Dzurinda restated Slovakia's support for UN actions in Kosovo and added that Slovakia wants to continue to contribute to this process. Annan, who visited Slovakia July 14-17, affirmed his appreciation of Kukan's role as UN special envoy for the Kosovo crisis and said Kukan's help would still be needed.

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