RIGA - President Valdis Zatlers successfully concluded his first visits abroad 's appropriately to Estonia and Lithuania 's the first steps in his crash-course on international diplomacy.
Both the Estonian and Lithuanian presidents said they were impressed with the new Latvian head of state, and that the visits have served to strengthen ties between the Baltic countries.
Zatlers traveled to Tallinn on July 12 to meet with Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. The next day he went to Vilnius to greet Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.
Prior to his election on May 31, and afterward as well, Zatlers was heavily criticized for his lack of political experience. While meetings with allies such as Estonia and Lithuania pose no serious diplomatic challenge, the president needed them to go well in order to begin building a reputation 's both internationally and domestically 's as a competent leader.
"The impression [we gained] was very good," Ansip told journalists after the meeting with Latvian president.
"I am sure the Latvian people have a very good president. He knows how people live, what their problems are. It seems that he is in the right place," the Estonian prime minister said.
Adamkus, for his part, said at a press conference that he had "a very pleasant meeting" with the Latvian president. He also said that he considers Zatlers to be an expert on Latvian affairs.
The presidents discussed a wide range of issues from culture and education to the economy, but most of the talks focused on energy concerns and the stagnant Latvian-Lithuanian maritime border agreement. Regarding energy, one of the main topics discussed was the construction of the new power plant to replace the one in Ignalina, Lithuania 's due to close in 2009 (see story on Page 6).
Ilves and Zatlers stressed the need to find alternative ways of generating power, Ilves told journalists. Diplomats quickly downplayed the talks, however, saying that they should be taken only as a hint to Lithuania and Poland that the two Baltic states are not happy with how the project is developing.
Zatlers also discussed construction of the new power plant with his Lithuanian counterpart, but those talks were overshadowed by negotiations over the stalled Latvian-Lithuanian maritime border.
"I believe that the issue is at an impasse. It is high time to resolve it. It seems a bit archaic that problems remain unsolved for years on end," Zatlers said at a press conference in Vilnius.
A draft border treaty was ratified by the Lithuanian government in 1999 but failed to get further than the first round in Latvia's parliament. The Ministry of Economy, supported by geologists, argued that the border areas included in the treaty might contain oilfields, and that it is necessary to conclude an agreement on oil exploration issues before the treaty can be ratified.
"Lithuania, for its part, has done everything it could. I hope we will find a solution," Adamkus said.
By contrast, Artis Pabriks, Latvia's minister of foreign affairs, noted that Latvia was prepared to negotiate for common resource management in areas close to the border. "Latvia hopes for economic cooperation with Lithuania. The ball is in Lithuania's court," he told the Baltic News Service.
Despite these relatively minor disagreements, the visits highlighted the ever-closer ties between the three Baltic states. "The most important things now are a united Baltic policy and a flourishing economy," Zatlers said after his meeting with Adamkus.