TALLINN - Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, at a meeting with Republican Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, on Jan. 20 in Washington said that the natural and multi-faceted cooperation between Europe and the U.S. is essential for ensuring the security of Europe. “Cooperation between Europe and the U.S. is also a decisive factor in ensuring security in Afghanistan,” said Paet. “The U.S.’ visibility through training exercises carried out in Europe or visits by naval ships plays an important role,” he added.
Paet stated that it is also very important for European nations not to reduce defense spending. “Estonia is striving to allocate 2 percent of its GDP for defense spending in 2012,” said Paet.
Ros-Lehtinen recognized Estonia’s activities as an ally in NATO and thanked Estonia for its contribution in Afghanistan.
Ros-Lehtinen also said that Estonia’s development since the restoration of its independence has been impressive. Paet invited Ros-Lehtinen and other members of Congress to Estonia on Aug. 20 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Estonia’s restored independence.
While talking about supporting new democracies in Europe and about the Eastern Partnership as one of Estonia’s foreign policy priorities in the EU, Paet emphasized that the Eastern Partners must be presented with sufficient demands, but also given aid in carrying out necessary reforms. “The support of the United States is undoubtedly important to our Eastern Partners. In addition, the goals of Eastern Partnership are stability, the establishment of democratic values, economic development and energy security, which are also very important to the U.S.,” said Paet.
During the meeting, Paet thanked the United States for its support for the Baltic States’ energy security and for participating in the policing of Baltic airspace.
Later, at his meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Paet said that Estonia highly values bilateral Estonia-U.S. cooperation, for example in joint military training, cooperation in the cyber sector and serving together in Afghanistan.
The secretary of state said that she is grateful that Estonia is a dependable, creative and close ally of the United States. “In the 20 years since Estonia’s independence, the country has become a successful model for others, with its Internet voting, cyber innovations, commitment to good governance, the rule of law, and fiscal responsibility,” said Clinton.
Paet gave an overview of his recent visit to Afghanistan. He stated that Estonia will continue its military and civil contributions on at least the same level and without limits until the security situation in the country is such that the international mission can begin to depart. “It is important to reach a situation in which Afghanistan can manage on its own and does not pose a threat to other nations. We highly value the cooperation between Estonian and American soldiers and the implementation of joint development cooperation projects,” said Paet.
Clinton thanked Estonia for its cooperation in building up the state and helping the people in Afghanistan. She highlighted Estonia’s contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and to development cooperation and development aid.
Paet and Clinton also discussed new opportunities for cooperation in Afghanistan. “In Helmand this could take the form of increasing the accessibility of health care for women,” said Paet. “In general we feel it is important to include the gender aspect in international peace and security activities,” he added.
When talking about NATO, Clinton thanked Estonia for successfully organizing the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in April 2010. Paet stated that it’s positive that the U.S. is joining the NATO Cyber Defense Center in Tallinn. “Cyber security must become a vital topic for NATO -one that receives attention on a daily basis,” Paet said at the meeting.
Clinton noted that Estonia’s activities in supporting Europe’s new democracies is important, including the opening of the European Union Eastern Partnership Training Center in Tallinn next week.
Paet and Clinton also discussed the situation in Belarus. The Estonian foreign minister emphasized that it is necessary to re-institute sanctions against Belarus, but these should not restrict the country’s civil society. “Civil society and other democratic forces in Belarus should be supported more than before. People-to-people contacts, youth exchange, and research and cultural contacts should be developed, and opportunities for university students to study in European institutes of higher education should be expanded,” said Paet.
The foreign minister also met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York.
During his visit to the United States Paet placed a commemorative wreath on the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. “We must not forget all those who died and suffered under communist regimes,”he said.
The Victims of Communism Memorial was opened in June 2007 by then-President George W. Bush. There is also a virtual Global Museum on Communism that contains data and histories of people who suffered under communist regimes. The virtual museum also includes a gallery dedicated to Estonia.
Both the Victims of Communism Memorial and the virtual museum are international initiatives that have been supported by the governments of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, among others. Thousands of organizations and individuals worldwide have also supported the initiatives.