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U.S. Congress visits

When the largest Congressional delegation to visit Slovakia since it gained independence five years ago meets the new government in Bratislava on January 12, it will be meeting a cabinet which has tied its political fate to accession to NATO and the EU. And while no member of the delegation will be making concrete promises about accession, both sides are acutely aware of the fact that the visit represents a crucial show of support for the policies of the new government.
Benjamin Gilman, the chairman of the International Relations Committee, will be leading the delegation of 12 members of the House of Representatives as they meet with Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš, and other government leaders.

When the largest Congressional delegation to visit Slovakia since it gained independence five years ago meets the new government in Bratislava on January 12, it will be meeting a cabinet which has tied its political fate to accession to NATO and the EU. And while no member of the delegation will be making concrete promises about accession, both sides are acutely aware of the fact that the visit represents a crucial show of support for the policies of the new government.

Benjamin Gilman, the chairman of the International Relations Committee, will be leading the delegation of 12 members of the House of Representatives as they meet with Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš, and other government leaders.

If Slovaks are looking for friends in Washington, they need look no further than Representative John L. Mica, a Republican Congressman from the area of Florida between Orlando and Daytona Beach.

Mica's grandfather was born in the western Slovak village of Kopčany, on the Morava River between Skalica and Kúty. He lived a few kilometers south of there in Veľke Laváre before leaving for the US, where he arrived on December 28, 1907. The family settled in Binghamton, N.Y., and then relocated in 1956 to Florida.

Mica takes his Slovak roots seriously and has led the effort in Congress to support the country's bid for NATO membership. In 1995, he organized an international trade delegation to Bratislava in an effort to expand trade and investment opportunities, and he was instrumental in getting Slovakia on the itinerary for this week's Congressional trip.

The Slovak Spectator had the opportunity to ask Mica a few questions before the delegation arrived in Bratislava.


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why is this visit happening now, three months after a new government was elected, and not during the previous four years of Vladimír Mečiar's tenure as Prime Minister?

John Mica (JM): Slovakia is the only non-EU country being visited in conjuncture with the US Congress and EU Interparliamentary annual meeting this year. A new US Congress is meeting with new Slovak leaders.


TSS: Slovakia was passed over for early NATO and EU entry largely because of political shortcomings. Now the new government has set about correcting those political flaws, but Slovakia is not likely to get back into the first group of countries. What do you say to those people who argue that this raising of the bar on Slovakia is hypocritical and unfair?

JM: While Slovakia did not make the first round of NATO membership, as various requirements and reforms are instituted, these actions will enhance the opportunities to join NATO.


TSS: The new government's main foreign policy priority is NATO and EU membership. If the government coalition suffers politically because it is not able to make tangible gains towards these goals, what will the US government do to inspire confidence in the Slovak public?

JM: This US Delegation by this visit and these discussions demonstrates to Slovakia and its people American support toward these goals.


TSS: Since Slovakia will not be in the first round of NATO expansion, when can they realistically expect a second round?

JM: Depending on the adoption of various reforms, Slovakia could very well be included in the next round of NATO expansion.


TSS: Can Slovakia expect to join the OECD in 1999?

JM: Slovakia's joining the OECD in 1999 is totally dependent on meeting economic reforms required such as transparency and legislation that permits fair and open conduct of trade and business.

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