TALLINN - The three Baltic presidents meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, DC on Aug. 30 were reaffirmed that the United States considers the Baltic countries to be equal partners in strategic cooperation, reports LETA.
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvian President Andris Berzins and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite arrived in Washington at Obama’s invitation last Friday.
During the meeting with Obama and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the officials discussed the Baltic countries’ security in the North Atlantic Treaty context, the regional cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries, as well as sharing the Baltic countries’ experience with Eastern Partnership and Central Asia countries and the cooperation with these countries.
There are no senior or junior partners in NATO, and the United States considered Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to be a key obligation to all NATO member states, said the U.S. president.
The United States has a high opinion of the Baltic countries’ involvement in the Afghanistan mission, which clearly shows that the Baltic countries are reliable NATO partners.
“The message of the U.S.-Baltic summit is clear and visible: the security of the United States of America and Europe continues to be inseparable,” said President Ilves. “The Baltic States, just like a democratic Europe in general, needs the United States of America, and the United States of America needs their European partner,” he confirmed. “The USA’s presence is as important for us [today] as it was in the 20th century, when the United States ensured the security of democratic Europe during the Cold War, giving hope that independence can be restored to those who had been deprived of their freedom and helped us to restore our independence.”
According to the confirmation given by President Obama, the expression of NATO’s collective defense, or the validity of Article 5, is beyond any doubt; he described NATO as the axis for Trans-Atlantic cooperation.
The Baltic States and the U.S. with other allies have participated, as brothers in arms, in numerous NATO military operations, the most recent being the alliance’s most complicated foreign mission to Afghanistan, said the U.S. president, acknowledging Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for the energy and vision they have contributed to NATO.
The situation that has emerged in Syria was also discussed at the U.S.-Baltic summit. The use of chemical warfare is a horrible crime and a punishment to match must be meted out, President Ilves asserted.
When discussing defense cooperation between the U.S. and the Baltic States, President Ilves said that no one should have reason to doubt – the United States of America as our ally in NATO is deeply and consistently interested in the independence and security of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This fact is confirmed by joint exercises and training, numerous training programs and mutual consultations.
“Europe will continue to seek the USA’s commitment to our region, which includes giving the Eastern neighbors of the European Union – provided that they have successfully done their homework – a chance to decide, freely and by themselves, where they want to belong, without being threatened and intimidated,” emphasized the Estonian head of state. “Here, the European Union and the United States will, once again, defend democracy and human rights together – the values that we believe in and attach importance to at the international level.”
He stressed the importance of signing an Agreement of Association with Ukraine at the European Union Eastern Partnership Summit in November, and having the agreement initialized with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia.
Estonia shares its experiences and assistance with other reform-minded countries both in Europe and further afield, mostly focusing on e-governance, cyber security and the strengthening of civil society. The U.S. and Estonia are together leading a network for advising new democratic countries and their leaders, the LEND (Leaders Engaged in New Democracies).
According to President Obama, the Baltic States have become donors and set an example for countries that also want to be successful.
The U.S. commander-in-chief acknowledged Estonia as a strong ally in NATO, being among the very few of the alliance that have contributed two percent of its GDP to national defense, even in these economically complicated times, and characterized President Ilves as an important promoter of Internet freedom and e-governance.
The Estonian head of state characterized the negotiations on the free trade agreement between the European Union and the U.S. as going smoothly, without hindrances and looking for solutions together as important. This could be the most ambitious free trade agreement that has ever been concluded and would join markets of more than 800 million people. Trade between the EU and the USA today contributes approximately one third of the global trade, he noted.
Presidents Obama, Ilves, Berzins and Grybauskaite also discussed the cooperation in the Baltic Sea region and talked of close and daily cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic states, as well as on the Trans-Atlantic axis.