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Clinton: U.S. supports Central Europe

By LORI SANTOS

WARSAW, Poland, July 7 -- President Bill Clinton strongly reaffirmed U.S. support for Poland and Eastern Europe Thursday, where he said economic and political reforms have proven to be the best road to peace and prosperity. 'My message today to the people of Poland, and to all the people of Central and Eastern Europe, is simple and direct: free markets and democracy remain the only proven path to prosperity and to peace,' Clinton said in a speech to the Polish Parliament, attended by foreign ministers from nine nations in the region. Clinton recounted the history and courage of Poland, especially over the last 50 years, and promised it would play a leading role in the U.S. -sponsored Partnership for Peace program and be among the first in line for membership in NATO. 'When NATO does expand, as it will, ademocratic Poland will have placed itself among those ready and able to join,' he said. On Tuesday, Poland became the first of 21 applicants to qualify for the program, and on Wednesday Clinton announced the first PFP joint exercises would be held on Polish territory in September. Without naming Russia specifically, Clinton made it clear that that country would not be allowed veto power over Poland's desire to integrate with the West -- a major concern in Poland, where there is a general perception that U.S. foreign policy is too tilted toward Russia at the expense of its former Warsaw Pact allies. 'Poland should never again have its fate decided for it by others,' he said.

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'No democracy in this region should ever be consigned to a gray area, or a buffer zone, and no country should have the right to veto, compromise or threaten democratic Poland's, or any other democracy's integration into western institutions -- including those that ensure security.' In the 20-minute speech, Clinton outlined a set of new U.S. economic initiatives worth about $200 million to help Poland develop its economy and assuage some of the dislocations caused by the structural reforms. 'We will not let the Iron Curtain be replaced with a veil of indifference,' Clinton declared. The president said he envisioned 'a new integrated Europe of sovereign nations' with Poland and other Eastern Europe nations being the primary building blocks for the continent's future. The response to Clinton's speech was favorable but subdued. Later, while visiting with President Lech Walesa at a meeting of Eastern and Central European foreign ministers at the Presidential Palace, the Polish leader was asked if he would pleased by what Clinton had said. 'One must remember that many great subjects were raised by the president. One needs to think these topics over but...I must underscore that we are very satisfied,' Walesa said with Clinton at his side. Clinton started a busy day with a jog around one of Warsaw's lush parks, followed by visits to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, which commemorates the ill-fated Jewish uprising in 1943 under Nazi occupation. During a morning meeting with Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak, Clinton reaffirmed his message of U.S. support for the ongoing economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe, and also for those 'who have not been helped by the changes that have been made.' Poland currently has more than 3 million unemployed, about 15 percent of the working population. Contained in the $200 million economic incentive package is funding to establish a Pilot Re-Employment Fund for workers who have lost jobs because of economic restructuring. 'I think that's one of our responsibilities,' Clinton said during the photo session with Pawlak. 'If we want Europe to be democratic and free, integrated and united, then we're going to have to prove that market economies will work for ordinary citizens.'

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