TALLINN - Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met with U.S. congressmen today to discuss one of the two countries' most pertinent issues: visa-free travel.
"Estonia believes that all European Union member countries should receive equal treatment in this question," Paet said, adding that eliminating U.S. visa requirements had both emotional and practical benefits. "It would definitely be good for EU-U.S. business and cultural ties, and so-called public diplomacy."
Bilateral relations with the United States and matters pertaining to the protection of intellectual property were also discussed during the meeting, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said.
Head of the delegation Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House of Representatives' agriculture committee, said the United States encouraged all Estonians to visit the country, and wanted to make this as easy as possible. He observed, however, that certain criteria must be met before the Baltic state can join the U.S. visa-waiver program.
Estonia meets practically all the requirements, Goodlatte added, save its high rate of visa refusals, which needs more attention.
A joint-consular working group was set up on March 31 to help Estonia meet visa-free travel requirements. The group has met three times so far.
Members of the meeting agreed that Estonia and the United States have enjoyed good relations since the Baltic state regained independence. The congressmen thanked Estonia for its contribution to international missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Besides Goodlatte, who is a republican from Virginia, the delegation also included democrats Collin Peterson and Mike McIntyre, and republican Kenny Marchant.