Balts may be able to travel to the U.S. without a visa by the end of the year.
WASHINGTON 's Officials from the U.S. have released a flurry of statements inthe past few days confirming that the country is on the verge of dropping thevisa requirements for the Baltic states.
The most recent came from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff,who said on Tuesday that Estonians will be able to travel to the U.S. without avisa by year's end.
Chertoff, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich, Estonian Interior Minister Juri Pihland Justice Minister Rein Lang signed an agreement in Washington on Monday thatis the final prerequisite for visa-free travel between Estonia and the United States.
"This agreement is extremely important and necessary in today's worldthat is full of risks, where international terrorism, cross-border crime andillegal migration are jeopardizing countries' internal stability, people'sdaily lives, and are undermining the mainstays of the democratic society,"the Estonian interior ministerwas quoted by spokespeople as saying during the signing of the agreement.
The agreement is the final prerequisite for the accession of Estonia to the U.S. visa waiverprogram. Before the decision to expand the program is made the U.S. secretaryof state must formally name Estoniaa candidate for visa waiver.
The agreement was signed on the same day that U.S. Ambassador to LatviaCharles Larson said that the country was fully prepared to adopt a visa freeregime.
Larson made the comment Monday after signing the agreement between the U.S.and Latvian governments on enforcing cooperation in preventing and combatingsevere crimes. The agreement was signed to fully complete the technicalnegotiations on introduction of the visa-free regime with the U.S.
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, meanwhile, discussed the country'sprogress toward a visa free regime during a Tuesday meeting with U.S. PresidentGeorge Bush.
"It is very important and symbolic that the last legal document whichwill open up a possibility for Lithuaniancitizens to travel freely to the U.S.A. was signed today. I thank President G.W. Bush for his leadership and for the consistent efforts of his administration,"Adamkus is quoted as saying in a release by the president's press service.