Presidents differ over common goals

  • 2001-03-22
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga arrived for her first official visit to Lithuania on March 14. She discussed with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus the common goals of both countries Ð membership in NATO and the European Union. But differences of opinion were soon apparent.

Tensions in bilateral issues relating to the ratification of the sea border treaty and safety at the Butinge oil export-import terminal were also touched upon.

NATO differences

Vike-Freiberga surprised Adam-kus on the day of her arrival with a proposal to draft a joint appeal from the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian presidents to U.S. President George W. Bush, urging him to help elicit an invitation for the Baltic states to join NATO in 2002.

On March 15, Adamkus said that Vilnius would ask all nine NATO candidates to sign off on such an appeal. He argued that an appeal from all nine prospective members would carry more weight with Washington.

Vike-Freiberga said that all three Baltic countries should be accepted into NATO at the same time. An invitation to Lithuania only would be a mistake, she said.

Adamkus said that all candidate countries that met NATO standards should be invited. Lithuania is considered the strongest NATO candidate among the Baltic countries.

"Latvians and Estonians should pay attention to their preparation for NATO membership and not waste time guessing who will be invited. It is important that the Baltic dimension be present during the second wave of NATO expansion, because some European countries do not want to invite any of the Baltic states in 2002," commented Liberal MP Alvydas Medalinskas.

Vike-Freiberga spoke before the Lithuanian Parliament on March 15.

"The accession of the three Baltic countries to NATO will finally create a proper and long-lasting order in a united Europe. It will leave the consequences of World War II behind," Vike-Freiberga said.

She expressed her conviction that Latvia and Lithuania would be invited to join NATO in 2002 and would become members of the EU in 2004.

Lithuanian political observers criticized the Latvian position on NATO expansion. "The legend portrayed in the Lithuanian media about the sharp brain of Vike-Freiberga was quite an exaggeration," political observer Lina Peceliuniene said during her traditional Sunday analysis on the state-run Lithuanian Radio.

"Vike-Freiberga says that it is better not to invite any Baltic country into NATO than to invite one. Such black jealousy has no logical explanation. An invitation to at least one Baltic country would be a guarantee of further expansion to the other Baltic countries."

Peceliuniene continued that Adamkus made a much more solid appearance by stating that he would send flowers to Vike-Freiberga if Latvia were the first Baltic country to join NATO. Such an outcome, however, is generally considered to be unlikely.

Stormy seas

The neighbors also discussed border issues. The Latvian Parliament has so far failed to ratify the 1999 treaty on the marine border between Lithuania and Latvia. The Lithuanian Parliament ratified it last October.

Vike-Freiberga told the Lithuanian Parliament that the delay is being caused by "concern over traditional fishing zones" among Latvian fishermen.

These fishing grounds are on the Lithuanian side of the sea border, according to Vike-Freiberga. Adamkus said that these worries are groundless, because Lithuania is ready to exchange fishing quotas with Latvia.

Vike-Freiberga talked to Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas about the recent oil spill at the Butinge offshore oil export-import terminal, which belongs to American-operated Mazeikiu Nafta.

Paksas said that Mazeikiu Nafta has international insurance against such accidents at Butinge and promised that the company would pay Lithuania and Latvia for any damage to the Baltic coast's natural environment.

A group of Latvian businessmen accompanied Vike-Freiberga during her state visit. They met with Lithuanian businessmen at the Draugyste Hotel in Vilnius.

"We didn't plan to reach any agreements during this meeting," Lithuanian Economy Minister Eugenijus Gentvilas said. "It was interesting that our businessmen and their counterparts from Latvia do not have enough information about business conditions in each other's countries. It was a good opportunity to establish personal contacts."

According to the Lithuanian statistics department, Lithuanian-Latvian trade reached $666.42 million in 2000. Lithuanian exports to Latvia amounted to $571.55 million, while Lithuanian imports from Latvia totaled $90.27 million.

Latvia received 14.9 percent of all exports from Lithuania, while imports to Lithuania from its northern neighbor accounted for 1.7 percent of the total import volume.

Latvian ideals

During her stay in Vilnius, Vike-Freiberga took part in the televised political discussion program Spaudos Klubas (Press Club). Some of her statements struck the Lithuanian ear as exotic.

She said that ethnic Russians who feel dissatisfied in Latvia should be encouraged to repatriate to Russia. Several years ago in Lithuania, one marginal, ultra-right-wing Lithuanian activist named Mindaugas Murza made the same statement, causing a great deal of controversy. Since then, the Lithuanian state security department has persecuted him for his words.

Audrius Siaurusevicius, the director of the show, asked the Latvian president, "Estonians say that they are more of a Scandinavian state than a Baltic state. Lithuania and Poland have proclaimed their strategic partnership. Which countries besides the Baltic states are the closest to Latvia?"

"Lithuania and Estonia," Vike-Freiberga answered. After a long pause she also mentioned Norway and Denmark.

The Latvian delegation included the country's defense, economy and environment ministers. Both presidents and ministers used English as a common language during their negotiations.

Vike-Freiberga also participated in the presentation of a CD called "Latvia and Lithuania Between the Two World Wars" at the Lithuanian National Library. The Latvian president visited Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, a military training center in Rukla, the military air observation center in Karmelava, the coastal resort of Sventoji and the Maritime Museum on the Curonian Spit.