No surprises at successful Prague Nato Summit

Photo: CTK

The Prague Nato Summit came to an end on Friday afternoon, with the second day's agenda including meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, the NATO-Ukraine Commission and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Radio Prague's Ian Willoughby was at Prague's Congress Centre for the whole of the summit; Ian, could you briefly sum up what have been the key issues of the summit?

Photo: CTK
There were three main issues. Firstly of course there was enlargement, with seven former Eastern bloc countries admitted, and that will bring the alliance right up to Russia's border. Secondly, there was the approval of a rapid reaction force. That means that NATO is no longer confining itself to Europe, and this force will be ready be deployed anywhere in world. And thirdly - and this is also extremely important - NATO has cemented its closer relations with Russia. During his final news conference Fri afternoon, it was put to Nato secretary general George Robertson that Russia had had a lukewarm response to the alliance's eastwards expansion. This was his reaction.

"I did not expect anything other than a lukewarm response. After all the president of Russia, the government of Russia, are no advocates of NATO's enlargement. But we have a new relationship with Russia, we had the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council this morning and it was highly successful, we're working on a whole raft of practical areas with the Russian Federation at the moment. So Russia has nothing to fear from an enlarged Alliance, that is tied in with Russia, and looking at key issues and dealing with some together. And I note very carefully that they are more interested now in working with us than shouting about us - that's good."

I should add that while you could classify the Russian reaction as lukewarm, the idea of them accepting the latest enlargement say a couple of years ago would have been absolutely unthinkable. After all, NATO will extend right up to Russia's border, and will be on former Soviet territory.

I understand Ian that there was some kind of heckling during Lord Robertson's final news conference?

That's right. Actually it was after he had finished speaking; two Russian-speakers shouted something about Nato being worse than the Gestapo. Actually I had seen them around and they did look a bit out of place. But that was the only security lapse, and it was hardly a major incident, of the whole summit. Of course a lot of Prague residents, they estimate up to 200,000 people, left the city to avoid problems caused by traffic restrictions and so on, and that's something Lord Robertson also commented on.

"I noticed that most of the people of Prague appear to have left Prague and allowed us to occupy their city for a few days; maybe nobody else will ever see Prague as quiet as it has been over these last couple of days, but it has been to our benefit and I'm grateful to everyone for allowing that to happen. It was well worth it as this has been a summit meeting, a real turning point and it will be remembered by history, so all of those who were discomforted by our presence here can console themselves by the fact that they've also contributed to make this a successful summit."

So Ian, all in all was the summit a success?

Yes, although there were no surprises at all from NATO as everything had been more or less scripted in advance. That said, the fact it all went smoothly can be regarded as a success. It was of course the first NATO summit to be held in a former Warsaw Pact country, and the Czech authorities, especially the interior minister, Stanislav Gross, can congratulate themselves this evening on a job well done. I think it was also a great success for President Vaclav Havel. He is stepping down in two months time, and he couldn't have asked for a more auspicious end to his career, with so many world leaders paying tribute to him.