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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Reassures East on Security

PRAGUE -- President Bill Clinton left Prague for Kiev and Moscow on Wednesday after giving the new democracies of Eastern Europe an implicit promise that NATO would come to their defense if they were attacked.

Clinton, who begins summit talks with President Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin on Thursday, made the pledge after meeting in Prague with the leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.

Clinton then flew on to Kiev, where he held a 90-minute meeting with President Leonid Kravchuk on Ukraine's pledge to surrender its nuclear arsenal to Russia. He was due to depart for Moscow late Wednesday night.

Clinton extended the NATO defense vow during a news conference in Prague after trying to dispel lingering doubts over his Partnership for Peace plan for Eastern Europe.

The partnership plan, endorsed by a summit meeting of the 16-member alliance in Brussels, provides for closer military cooperation between NATO and Eastern European countries without giving them concrete security guarantees.

But Clinton appeared to go a step further than the text of the partnership program when a questioner asked whether it was conceivable, given the lessons of World War II, that NATO would fail to come to the help of an Eastern European country if it were invaded or subject to military aggression.

"I think it is doubtful" that there would be no help, Clinton replied. "I think your reading of our reading of history is right."

But Clinton added that he did not believe any of the former satellites of Moscow in the now defunct Warsaw Pact faced the threat of imminent attack.

"Of course, there are always concerns that in the future the darker past might be recreated, that there could be expansionism again," he said.

In the run-up to the Brussels summit, the Czechs, Poles, Slovaks and Hungarians had pressed for full NATO membership because of fears, fueled by the electoral success of the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, that Russia might revert to the habits of its imperial past.

Though the four countries of the so-called Visegrad Group, named after the Hungarian town where it was formed after the collapse of communism, had all reluctantly accepted the U.S. partnership plan, Clinton came to dispel lingering doubts.

The U.S. president sought to sell the idea in one-to-one talks with the leaders -- Presidents Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Lech Walesa of Poland, Arpad Goncz of Hungary and Michal Kovac of Slovakia. But they made clear that their long-term aim remained full NATO membership.

The members of the Visegrad Group "do not regard the Partnership for Peace as a substitute for full NATO membership but rather as a first step," Havel told the news conference.

Clinton stressed that "the security of your states is important to the security of the United States" and added that while the partnership was not NATO membership, "neither is it a permanent holding room."

The White House released a statement announcing a major expansion of Overseas Private Investment Corporation programs in Central and Eastern Europe.

OPIC will elicit and accept proposals for privately managed investment funds in the region, and increase its per-project lending limit from $50 million to $200 million.

Clinton also announced that the United States will sponsor a conference on trade and investment in Central and Eastern Europe in Washington this year, the statement said.

Clinton said the United States would support efforts by the Visegrad nations to achieve early membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.