The Clinton administration was resisting pressure Tuesday from new East European allies who want the United States to speed up plans to offer them NATO membership.
It's an ``evolutionary process,'' say US officials who have a wary eye on last month's surprisingly strong showing by nationalists in Russia's parliamentary elections.
The White House conceded that there was ``some debate about the details'' of what the Clinton administration is calling a Partnership for Peace. President Clinton will outline the proposal at a NATO summit planned for next week.
Even before the Russian elections, US officials were sensitive to Moscow's concerns about NATO offering membership to former Warsaw Pact nations such as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
Too sensitive in the view of Polish President Lech Walesa, who called NATO's go-slow approach ``shortsighted and irresponsible'' in an interview with the Washington Post.
Gen. John Shalikashvili, a former NATO commander and now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told East European journalists: ``Russia does not have a veto over who will join or not join, who will participate or not participate in a Partnership for Peace.''
But the general also noted that Russia is going through ``a very difficult period,'' and he warned against setting up new divisions in Europe ``by design or somehow inadvertently.''
United Nations Ambassador Madeleine Albright said the US proposal is ``an evolutionary process in which each country will have the possibility of moving at its own pace to carve out its road toward integration into the Western system.''
In advance of the NATO summit, Mr. Clinton is sending Mr. Shalikashvili and Ms. Albright to Eastern Europe to calm fears about limited association with NATO.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser for President Carter, said the administration should ``be explicit in setting some timing, in defining the criteria for membership, such as a democratic stability, no territorial conflicts, territorial propinquity to NATO, and say that the process of enlarging NATO is under way.''