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Three Baltic presidents meet with Obama in Washington

  • 2013-09-02
  • By Steven G. Traylor

RIGA - Making her first visit to the White House in Washington, DC, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite met with U.S. President Barack Obama on Aug. 30, along with the president of Latvia, Andris Berzins and the president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves to discuss a wide range of issues important to the three Baltic leaders. Lithuania holds the current rotating Presidency of the EU Council of the European Union.

At a time when the U.S. is pre-occupied with escalating events in the Middle East with regards to Syria; it is important to note that the three Baltic presidents were still able to discuss with President Obama issues of specific interest to all three.

This Baltic–U.S. meeting was set before reports that Syria had “crossed the line” in its supposed use of chemical weapons, and these events are now focusing world attention on a possible military response against Syria. However, the three Baltic presidents garnered the attention of President Obama, nonetheless.

“Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are valued NATO allies. The four leaders discussed a broad range of mutual interests, including regional cooperation on shared challenges, energy security, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, defense, and cyber cooperation,” said Grybauskaite, according to a statement by the press secretary. She brought up a ‘parallel issue,’ discussing in private reports of American spying on the EU.

As partner NATO member states, gratitude was paid to each of the three Baltic leaders for their contribution to the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. For Latvia, special thanks was extended by President Obama for its contribution of the Northern Distribution Network as the path for delivering non-lethal materials to NATO forces in Afghanistan since 2006. Today, Riga is now an exit point from Afghanistan.

Issues of importance

As a second-term president, Obama need not face voters again, and looks forward to creating a positive legacy during his final term in office. In his State of the Union speech in February, the president said, “I’m announcing [tonight] that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. Because trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good paying American jobs.”

Europe did not disagree. “A future deal among the two most important economic powers will be a game changer. Together we will form the largest trade zone in the world,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the following day on Obama’s remarks.

The so-called TTIP first round of negotiations got under way in Washington, DC in July with respective approaches and ambitions presented, and some twenty various talking points covered. The second round of negotiations is scheduled for October, in Brussels, under the current EU leadership of Lithuania’s Presidency, and the EU’s point man Chief Negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero.

As the world’s leading economy, the U.S. has negotiated free trade agreements with some 20 countries. The president’s message in February, and his desire to leave a positive economic legacy has spurred both U.S. and European leaders to the negotiating table.