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TALLINN - The Estonian government on Thursday gave its nod to an agreement on defense cooperation between the United States and Estonia that would regulate the legal status of members of the U.S. armed forces staying in Estonia and authorized the minister of defense to sign it.
Estonian Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna said that signing of a bilateral agreement was necessary when two countries were engaging in long-term defense cooperation.
"The defense cooperation agreement between Estonia and the United States supports the presence of U.S. units in Estonia and strengthens our security. This is a material step towards deepening cooperation with the United States, our strategic partner. The United States has concluded similar agreements with several other European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland and others. Also, Estonia has concluded bilateral agreements to ensure the rights of the members of its defense forces and the state," the minister said.
The agreement would complement the already existing agreement on the status of armed forces between NATO member states (NATO SOFA), spokespeople for the government said. It would reduce the red tape related to the stay of members of the U.S. armed forces and their contractors in Estonia and make available to them certain advantages based on common strategic interest and principles.
The document will replace the agreement on the use of land plots and structures of the Estonian defense forces that were concluded in 2015 by means of exchange of notes between the governments of Estonia and the United States.
The agreement would not restrict Estonia's exclusive right to give permission for the entry of members of the U.S. armed forces, military aircraft, and military vessels into Estonia.
The agreement would also regulate the application of Estonian penal law to members of the U.S. armed forces and their dependents. The document would determine in greater detail the cases in which the jurisdiction of Estonia as the receiving state and in which cases the jurisdiction of the U.S. as the sending state will apply to members of the U.S. armed forces.
The focus of the tax exemptions envisaged under the agreement would be primarily on goods and services meant for official use. One of the basic principles of international defense cooperation is that no country must earn money at the expense of the armed forces of the sending state.
The agreement is to be signed by the Estonian minister of defense and the U.S. ambassador to Estonia. After that, the agreement has to be ratified by the Riigikogu.
Estonia has previously signed a similar agreement with Germany, for instance. The United States has signed similar agreements with Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria and several other countries.