TORONTO — The official communique was packed with cliches and diplomatic babble, but a hidden microphone caught what the allies of the United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization really think of President Clinton's foreign policy.
The American decision on which countries will join NATO was based on local politics in Chicago. And most European and Canadian politicians would be in jail if they had the ethics of American politicians.
Those were remarks made by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrtien, and the Belgian prime minister, Jean-Luc Dehaene, as they waited for Mr. Clinton to arrive at the NATO meeting in Madrid Wednesday.
"In your country and my country, all the politicians would be in jail because they [American politicians] sell their votes," said Mr. Chrtien to Mr. Dehaene, speaking in French. They thought their conversation was private, but a live microphone on a TV camera picked up much of it.
The pictures show the two men relaxing and laughing while making eight minutes of small talk as they waited for Clinton, who had slept in. The Canadian prime minister, a politician all his working life, was especially cynical about why and how decisions are made in US foreign policy.
"You want me to vote on NATO, then you have to vote to build a bridge in my district. That's what's unbelievable," Chrtien said. The Belgian nodded agreement.
The Madrid meeting decided in favor of expanding NATO to include Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the three countries of which the Americans approved. Some members had favored membership for Slovenia and Romania as well.
Chrtien said the Americans were influenced only by local domestic politics. "It's not for reasons of security," he said. "It's all done for short-term political reasons needed to win elections." Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley "controls lots of votes for the nomination," was more important than geopolitics when it came to NATO expansion, Chrtien said. Chicago has many Polish-American voters.
The Belgian leader laughed and agreed with the Canadian.
"I told the Romanians more of them should emigrate" to the US, Dehaene said. "Same thing for Slovenia," Chretien said.
The Canadian prime minister boasted of his close relationship with the American president. But he, too, admitted he did things for local consumption, such as the strong stand he took against the US Helms-Burton law on trading with Cuba.
"I like to stand up to the Americans. It's popular," Chrtien said.
"But you have to be very careful because they're our friends."
Or at least they were. The Canadian prime minister went on vacation before reacting to his remarks, which were on the front page of every newspaper and the lead of every newscast in Canada.