In new administration, the Baltics look to U.S. for stability Photo: K. Kweder
The brand-new Capitol Hill Visitor Center set the stage for sharing ideas onU.S.-Baltic relations on Feb. 12 with Ambassador of Estonia Vaino Reinart,Andrejs Pildegovics (Latvia) and Audrius Bruzga (Lithuania).
The panel discussion, "President Obama and the Baltics" hosted by the U.S.Baltic Foundation, had the Lithuanian ambassador reflecting upon the title.
"I think it is interesting, provocative and engaging," Bruzga said.
"We want peace and prosperity," he said, "It may be easy and simple, butit's not so easy to achieve."
The ambassadors noted the importance of the U.S.-Baltic Charter signed in1999. The charter, from the late-Clinton era, was a foundation to improvingsecurity, investment and democratic values for the Baltic States.
Former U.S.political action from officials now within the current Obama administrationwere seen as positive:
In Sept. 2008, then-former Sen. Obama had been among seven senators tosponsor the Senate resolution on congratulating Latvia's 90th anniversaryof its independence; former Sens. Joe Biden and Hillary Rodham Clinton alsosupported NATO enlargement for the Baltics; and the security dialogue with Sec.of Defense Robert Gates continues.
In addition, Obama had also twice acknowledged all three Baltic countries intwo of his presidential debates last year.
Among the topics, the ambassadors briefly discussed the fears a Cold Warrevival between the U.S. andRussia,the global economic crisis, energy, NATO expansion, and Eastern partnerships.
All three Baltic States face economic hurdles: Latviahad to secure a $2.35 billion loan from the IMF in December, Estonia already hit a recession, and, Lithuania is likely to follow Estonia,according to Moody's Investors Service.
U.S. investments arelacking in Lithuaniasince the charter and not "led up to the ambition," said Bruzga.
All of the ambassadors also prodded the fear on "Buy American" provisions inthe $825 billion stimulus bill.
"The key to success is not protectionism," said Reinart.
The ambassadors also noted concern of free trade scaling back due to newerEU regulations and the need for more openness to U.S. trading in the Baltics.
In addition, the countries still have NATO commitments in Afghanistan with their deployed troops: Estonia 149; Latvia,143 and Lithuania,about 150, according to the embassies.
"Preventing war is more important than winning war," said Reinart.
On Feb. 12, Minister of National Defense Rasa Jukneviciene met with the U.S.Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Pentagon on NATO issues. Gates saidNATO is not a "debating club but a defense organization with the Article 5 atits heart," according to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry.
Article 5 in the North Atlantic Treaty was used on Sept. 12, 2001, for the allianceto aid the U.S. fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On U.S. relations with acold Russia, the ambassadorscited Ukraine and Georgia asexamples.
Bruzga said: "We should be brave enough to face the issue again" after failedNATO bids last year in the former Soviet states.
Meanwhile, Pildegovics said Latviahopes to warm up Russiarelations as a "predictable partner" to Russia.
"All in all, the dialogue has been better, but with Georgia and Ukraine, it has put the clouds onit," Pildegovics said.
After the hour-long discussion, the emphasis was directed to how will the U.S. fulfillits promises to the Baltic nations.
"I find this is a fitting event. â€¦ It's a new beginning for the U.S. president,but I'd like to highlight that at the end of the day, it depends on the energyof the leaders on both sides vowing to further the remarkable bonds between thetwo neighbors," Mr. Pildegovics said.