The U.S. wants Central and Eastern European countries to do more in the war on terrorism. The appeal came at a two-day meeting on the role of former Communist countries in the campaign against terrorist attacks. But there are sharp differences over how the war should be fought.
The U.S. ambassador to Hungary, Nancy Goodman Brinker, expressed concern about reports that extremists are active in the region. Speaking at the conference on the fight against terrorism in Central Europe, Ms. Brinker said there are signs the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama Bin Laden is operating in Central and Eastern Europe.
Peacekeepers in, for instance, Bosnia-Herzegovina have already been involved in a crackdown against alleged terrorists who are said to have used the mountainous terrain as a training ground. There is also concern the region will become a crossroad for illegal weapons transiting to the Western world.
The ambassador made clear that former Communist countries, such as Hungary, should make more resources available for anti-terrorist efforts in countries such as Afghanistan. "The anchor for Afghanistan's progress is the International Stabilization Force, which underwrites everything achieved to date. Thus far, however, Hungary is unique in the region for opting not to participate in the ISAF or Enduring Freedom missions. I would encourage a bipartisan debate to determine if Hungary might contribute to this very important mission in the future," she said. "I apologize if I have struck too sober a chord. If I had given this speech on September 11, perhaps I would have been more commemorative and abstract, and less political. But it is September 12, and my friends we have work to do..."
At the same time she praised central European attempts to improve border security and Hungary's involvement in preventing terrorists from using Hungarian banks to move their money. Hungary has said it will also make available about $2.5 million worth of military equipment to the peace force in Afghanistan.
The Czech Republic has set up a military hospital in Afghanistan and a chemical protection unit in kuwait. Other Eastern European countries, including Romania, are also participating in peace operations in Afghanistan. But they seem reluctant to support a possible U.S. strike against Iraq.
Hungarian officials told VOA there should be first, an agreement on this issue between America and the European Union, which Hungary and other ex-Communist states want to join in 2004. There is also concern in the region that a strike against Iraq will lead to new tensions with Russia.
Historian Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent 12 years in Russian jails for his political activities under Communism, said Moscow's trade deals with Iraq are complicating the situation. "In reality it means if [the] Americans come to Russia let it be in the security council of the United Nations or otherwise Russians would say we can not authorize a strike against Saddam Hussein because we lose a client worth $40 billion," he said. "It means either the Americans pay to Russia $40 billion of the money they are going to lose, which is not likely, or Russia on that ground, would object to any strike against Saddam Hussein."
Mr. Bukovsky believes that the focus should be first on the perpetrators responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States.
The 3,000 victims of last year's strikes were honored near the site of the conference on terrorism, as Budapest has close cultural ties to New York City.
U.S. Ambassador Brinker urged Central and Eastern European countries to turn their commemorations into more actions against evil.