WARSAW — For Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, further discussion on why Poland wants to join NATO is no longer an option. What matters now is how quickly the former Warsaw Pact nation will enter the North Atlantic Alliance.
After the second session of the 13th NATO Workshop, which was held in Warsaw and discussed matters of expansion and European security, Mr. Kwasniewski, a former communist minister, discussed with The Christian Science Monitor the reasons why his nation of 39 million people wanted to become a member of the 16-member alliance.
"We want to be...the stabilizing element of European security and cooperation," he said. "Membership in the European Union and NATO is the next step, a necessary step, to organize and build a common Europe."
Mr. Kwasniewski will meet with President Clinton on July 8 to discuss Poland's NATO aspirations. This will be the first visit to the US of Poland's second democratically elected president since the fall of Communism seven years ago. Kwasniewski, who defeated Solidarity legend Lech Walesa last November, was from the reconstituted Polish communist party (SLD), which also controls government and parliament.
The Polish president, who came from the pragmatic and reform-minded wing of the former communist party, will also discuss with Mr. Clinton the outcome of the Russian presidential elections which looms over Poland's politics, society and quick entry into NATO.
Even though Mr. Kwasniewski predicts a Boris Yeltsin victory in the second round, he says Poland doesn't "have any reason to fear Russia," even though Russian politicians have voiced opposition to NATO expansion.
"NATO is no more a bloc against the Soviet Union or Russia to protect the Western democracies and free markets. For the Russians, this is very difficult for them to understand. They should understand that NATO is not an alliance against Russia, but a system to organize completely and practically a common security. Not ... to create a division between Russia, but to solve problems like in Bosnia," said Kwasniewski, a social democrat.
"We need a lot of discussions with Russia and our eastern neighbors to explain our intentions and our membership in European structures," he said. "A new NATO, an open NATO and an enlarged NATO should have the best relations and a very good agreement with Russia and Ukraine."
But the Russian elections along with the Clinton administration's slow approach to NATO enlargement have left the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, and Slovakians waiting anxiously to join the NATO club.
Republicans have criticized the Clinton administration's slow approach. The administration's approach to enlargement is to first stabilize the Russian democracy, while the central Europeans see the enlargement as security guarantees from any renewed Russian influence, aggression or nationalism.
But Kwasniewski "understands the diplomatic moves before the Russian election," and hopes a good atmosphere will develop later this year when NATO is expected to discuss admission of new members at a summit in December.