Old website version during the first term of office of President Valdas Adamkus (1998 02 26-2003 02 25)

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John McLaughlin's "One on One" with Valdas Adamkus, President of Lithuania

2002.01.27

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The fantastic journey. At the end of World War II, he fled his country, as a teenager, to avoid a life under communism. For 48 years he lived in the U.S. Midwest. At age 19 he became an American citizen and joined the U.S. government at the Environmental Protection Agency, where he led the cleanup of the Great Lakes and rose through the ranks to become the EPA's Midwest regional administrator.

Then came the breakup of the Soviet Union and independence for his native Lithuania. He renounced his American citizenship, went home, ran for president of Lithuania, and now the former refugee is back in America, at the White House, to meet, this time, president-to- president.

Can this Americanized Lithuanian guide his country into the European Union and into NATO membership? And if so, how will Russia react? President Valdas Adamkus. President Adamkus, I greatly appreciate your being my guest today. Now you visited with President Bush yesterday, on Thursday of this week.

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How did that meeting go?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Pretty well. I believe it was highly professional, highly interested, and very friendly. I believe we have touched on a lot of issues concerning the present situation in the world, Lithuanian place, and at the same time we touched on our international relationship, specifically with our eastern neighbor Russia. Since we are talking about a NATO membership, Russia is very much interested, and this is of great concern for all the -- for the powers around Lithuania.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now its public position -- President Putin is opposed to Lithuania becoming a member of NATO. Did you discuss your NATO membership with President Bush?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, we spent a considerable amount of time on that issue. Actually, I advised or informed the president about my meeting last March in Moscow with President Putin, because this was one of the first topics we touched on. And I had opportunity to state to the President Putin that I know and recognize the position that Russia has on our membership, but at the same time, I tried to very clearly indicate to him that we have a very definite commitment as for the people of Lithuania and myself that this is one of our top priorities in our foreign policy -- to become the members of NATO. We are working very hard.

And at the same time, I stated to him I recognized their opposition, which is the continuous one until the -- probably until the -- our meeting at that time. But at the same time, I pointed out to him that as a sovereign state, I hope -- I mean that he recognizes our rights to determine our future for ourselves, and this is our choice -- I mean, to become the members of the Western society -- Western community as members -- full-fledged members with all the responsibilities accepting by the Lithuanian government, the Lithuanian people. And for a while, he was just facing me, looking at me, and he said, "Yes, you do have a right as a sovereign state to make your own choice."

So I believe that issue was settled, as far as myself and that of President Putin. And even at the time, he said this does not change their dislike of the idea, because he doesn't like the architecture of NATO.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did -- you recounted all of that to President Bush?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, I did mention that to him yesterday.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is President Bush urging you to carry forward with joining NATO?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Very strongly, and I was delighted to hear, I mean, his evaluation of Lithuania's preparedness, the work we are doing before applying for the membership. He urged us to continue in the same dynamic what you are doing, committing our resources and the direction we are taking. And even more, he recognized -- stating that he feels that Lithuania is as -- a leader in the Group of Ten countries, which are applying right now for the membership in NATO, and they asked me to convey the message that all the members will be selected, invited to join NATO -- not on some kind of a sympathies or special privileges, but on accomplishments, the work each country's going to do it, and I should relay that message to my friends, neighbors, countries who are actually presently have the -- what they call the 10 -- package of 10, who are applying for the membership in NATO.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think the sequence of acceptance will be, if you think Lithuania's number one?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: It's very difficult to predict.

I can just simply say what I read in the newspapers; I mean, that Slovenia and Slovaks are well-prepared to join, and I think the rest of the group, it's probably --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bulgaria, because of Bulgaria's cooperation in the Kosovo crisis?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: I believe that the rest of the group has equal opportunities. And if I take president's words at their face value when he said, I mean, they will be accepted, and their input, preparedness, readiness to join the community, I believe that that will be the case. And for me it's very difficult actually to say at what stage each country is involved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you find President Putin's reaction to your strong expression of intent to join NATO -- were you astonished that he -- I guess he seemed almost resigned to the fact that you were going to do it. Were you astonished at that, in view of his public utterances about his opposition to the Balkans being involved in NATO?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: To the extent, yes, since he changed that very strong position which started with President Yeltsin when he said, "Nyet, nyet, nyet." Mr. Putin actually was listening, and I believe I would say he is very -- from that point on, I mean, he took the position when he expressed this, two or three occasions. He was speaking in Helsinki, in his visit to Finland, and he spoke in Brussels when he was meeting with the commissioners of the European Union, and he was very, I mean, I would say continuously stating his position that, yes, he actually accepts the fact, I mean, that this is probably unavoidable, and I accept at that level. I mean, I don't honestly -- talking about the issue, I don't believe that Russia can simply stop the process. And they are realistic enough, I mean, that it's better to accept and try to cooperate in this instead of lose the face in front of the world community.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know better than I do that he has very strong nationalists in his country. And they don't like the idea of losing the buffer between themselves and the West. And you function as a buffer. Did he say anything about the difficulties that he would face in controlling those elements in his population, which are strong and vocal?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: No, I don't believe that we discussed any details why and why should he or why shouldn't he be taking that position or is he forced to take the position like this. But I believe this is understandable. I believe your observation about his position internally inside Russia, definitely he has to face those forces.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that he is going along in any sense because of an accommodation to George Bush, who wishes you to become a member of NATO?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: No, I wouldn't consider that, I mean, as only one factor. I believe he has a spectrum of issues he has to face, and he has to face the world community. First of all, I believe one aspect, which we never recognized, or it's not recognized even now, he's a new face in the world politics and he has to establish himself. So he cannot take the position which is contrary to overall -- I mean all the European powers and world powers. So he is introducing himself as the new leader of the new Russia. He expressed himself already that he would like to see, I mean, the real democracy work in former Soviet Union, and this is not an easy task for him to do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He has said himself -- I believe; correct me if I'm wrong -- that he would like to see Russia a member of NATO.

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, he has made that statement a couple --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a joke or is that serious?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: It's not a joke. It's a long projection into the future.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean he wants a Euro-Atlantic drift and tendency and posture for Russia?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Let me positively respond to that, but on the basis that he is a realist. He doesn't see any other way, I mean, to stop the process in the world of democratization, the free movement and participation economically. The Russia could not be excluded from the progress the rest of the world is doing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If Lithuania joins NATO, does that mean that Latvia and Estonia, your companion states, which collectively are about the size of Oklahoma -- 68,000 square miles --

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and we'll show a geo-map in a moment -- does that mean that they will follow?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: The way we see it at the present time -- and I want to mention that to you, the day before I departed for Washington, that was two days ago, since we are talking today, I went to Riga, to Latvia, and met with the president of Latvia and president of Estonia. We discussed our desires and work we are conducting to make sure that three Baltic countries would be accepted during the Prague meeting. And I have conveyed that information to the president yesterday. Both presidents asked me to convey their commitment to that idea and their desire to be the members invited with the rest of other nine members.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have reason to believe that NATO will do that type of accession of all the Baltics together?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, I do believe, I mean, that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: At the same time?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: I wish it would happen -- let's put it this way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would that go down as easily with Putin as, apparently, the Lithuanian accession to NATO?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: No, I don't believe, I mean, the reaction will be the same if Lithuania is accepted. I mean, if they have objections to that, they will object as strongly as they would object if all three Baltic countries would be invited at the same time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the Council of Europe and the OSCE and other international organizations know about this acceptance of the idea on Putin's part, that Lithuania will join NATO?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, I believe there is no secret.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you definitely will be number one, don't you think?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: I wish this would be the case.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They want to lock it in?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: More or less, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's take time out here, Mr. President, and orient our audience and those hearing about the program to the geography of Lithuania and its companion Baltic states.

Independent between World War I and World War II, Lithuania was annexed by the USSR in 1940. Fifty years later, and 12 years ago, in March of 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet Republics to declare its independence. The last Russian troops left in 1993.

Geography: Eastern Europe. Borders Latvia to the north; Belarus to the south; Poland, Kaliningrad, a province of Russia, and the Baltic Sea to the southwest and west.

Population: 3.6 million. Capital: Vilnius. Ethnic groups: Lithuanians, 82 percent; Russians 8 percent; Poles, 7 percent. Literacy rate: 98 percent. Government: Parliamentary democracy. GDP: $27 billion. Economic growth 2002, projected 3 percent. Per capita income: $7,300. President, Valdas Adamkus.

President Adamkus, one of your neighbors is Belarus. Do you think that Belarus is a democratic state, as was hoped some few years ago?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: With regret, I have to say negative. No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Belarus in any sense a problem for Lithuania?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Concern. Because on our side, we are trying very clearly to demonstrate our democratic way, the way you are actually building up our society, and our willingness to cooperate and have a friendly relationship even with governments which has not our understanding and not our philosophy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You are aware, I'm sure, of the arms sales that Belarus has undertaken. They are enormous, are they not?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Especially for a country of 10 million people.

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, I believe that they are conducting themselves contrarily to the principles you and I believe.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know the head of state, Mr. Lukashenko?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, I met with him a couple times. I had a one-time, very extensive, hour-and-a-half conversation, one on one, just the way we are sitting and talking about the issues. And I have my personal opinion about him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you care to tell us what that is?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, I could tell you. And the gentleman who actually project himself or would like to project himself as probably one of the greatest defender of the democracy, the human rights, publicly, but at the same time, I would say that his deeds, the way he conducts his policy in his country -- I mean, that's his decision, definitely -- speaks contrary to that what he's telling.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And we don't hear that from Mr. Putin, do we?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: No, I believe I would say I cannot compare those two personalities, because they are definitely different.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's another little province up there, called Kaliningrad --

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- which is a unique piece of real estate, because it's totally separated from Russia. Is Kaliningrad up with the times? Is it a modern entity? Is it a problem for you now if you join NATO, because then Kaliningrad will be totally surrounded by westernized democracies, except for Belarus?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: It's not a problem for -- yeah, it's not a problem for Lithuania. It's definitely -- I mean, the very unique situation in our European setup of the governments and structures, it's -- if you are talking about a standard of living in Kaliningrad area, that's a lot to be desired.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will you permit the free entrance of residents of -- and citizens of Kaliningrad to cross over after you become a member of the European Union -- we haven't gotten into that yet -- but when you do become a member?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yeah -- no, this is not up to Lithuania, because right now, with the present setup, I believe it works. We have a(n) east, I mean, axis and transit through the Lithuania for all the Kaliningrad people.

But definitely this is going to become the problem when Lithuania will become the member of the European Union. This is why I have in my March meeting with President Putin in Moscow proposed, I mean, not to wait until the time Lithuania will become the member, but let's sit down around the table in Kaliningrad area -- Poland, Lithuania, Russia, and the members, commissioners from Brussels -- and let's start discussing how we are going to handle that transit of the Russian citizens living in that particular region, going back and forth, I mean, through Lithuanian territory, maybe finding the way to make it easier for them, instead of every time going through the bureaucratic way to get a visa. And definitely this is not going to very friendly -- accepted by Russia. And Putin -- Mr. Putin, I believe, accepted my idea.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He did?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he concerned about Kaliningrad?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, he is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You also have a curious entry into Kaliningrad, and in Kaliningrad into Lithuania, on that spur of land which is where one of your finest beaches is; correct?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes, it's a part of it. It's -- I personally, as an environmentalist, I definitely would like to see that protected better than it has been protected at the present time, because it's a beauty of the nature, which has to be protected, saved. And the UNESCO organization already has expressed its interest as some -- under the protection of the international environmental --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In that connection, has your tourist volume increased, decreased, stayed the same in the past few years since you've been president?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: No, I don't believe that we have a direct impact, I mean, from Kaliningrad --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, not Kaliningrad. I mean universally, from around the world. How is your tourist volume?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: We are increasing every year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes. We are increasing. We are very happy and I believe we are improving our services, I mean, to receive the tourists throughout the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are any of your tourists your old friends from Chicago?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or your relatives?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Absolutely, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Lithuania a good place for Americans to invest? We'll put that question to our guest in just a moment. But first, here is his distinguished profile.

Born, Kaunas, Lithuania; 75 years of age; wife Alma (sp); Roman Catholic. Youth Be On Guard, an underground resistance magazine during World War II, publisher, three years. Munich University, student and faculty member, two years. World YMCA, Physical Training and Sports Committee, secretary-general and chairman, two years. Olympic Games of the Enslaved Nations, 1948, track and field events, winner -- two goals and two silver medals.

Emigrated to the USA, 1949; U.S. citizen, 1956. Illinois, an automobile spare parts company, worker while attending university at night, two years. U.S. Army, private, one year. U.S. Army Reserves, intelligence unit, master sergeant, nine years. Illinois Institute of Technology, master's in civil engineering. Environmental Protection Agency, two positions, including administrator of the Great Lakes region, 27 years. Lithuania, president, four years and currently. Awards, 10 honorary doctorates. Hobbies: tennis, swimming. Valdas Adamkus.

President Adamkus, is Lithuania a good place for Americans to invest?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Absolutely, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the currency stable?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Stable, very stable. One of the stablest currencies in Europe.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is your inflation high, low, or what?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Two percent. Steady.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two percent?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's moderated from the -- from about 10 years ago.

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I note here that Williams International, Philip Morris, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods -- which is part of Philip Morris -- are all -- are all in Lithuania. Anybody else of note?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: That's not enough.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not enough?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that they're showing any more interest in Lithuania?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: I believe so, and I inviting and reassuring -- I mean, the American businesspeople -- that Lithuania is really welcoming all American businesspeople there, because it's a safe place, good place, good workers, and a -- quite a -- I would say, basis of intellectual capacity -- I mean, to contribute to the -- expanding the business.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When was in Russia, I noticed that the Russian young people are very with-it as far as computer science is concerned. Is that true in Lithuania?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: We are definitely putting a lot of emphasis right now. We are introducing tests in almost -- in a village -- primary schools. We are actually developing the electronics and at the same time, what we call the electronic -- informative public --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Information science?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Information science. Right. Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much is the total direct investment of the United States in Lithuania?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: It's about 250 million (dollars).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not bad for a country of 4 million people, is it?

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: I'd say I believe we can triple that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it's a good beginning.

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Absolutely, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you so much for being my guest. It's been a pleasure talking to you. I'm sorry our time has expired. Good luck!

PRESIDENT ADAMKUS: Thank you very much. Really a great trip.







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