The defense ministers from the three Baltic countries had an unscheduled meeting on March 14 with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
According to a spokesman for the Estonian Defense Ministry, Rumsfeld's meeting with Estonia's Defense Minister Sven Mikser, his Latvian counterpart Girts Kristovskis and Lithuania's Linas Linkevicius lasted nearly 40 minutes.
"The ministers made the trip to the U.S. together to show solidarity between the three nations in their bids to gain acceptance to NATO," said Janis Sarts, Latvia's chief NATO negotiator.
They discussed the Baltic states' progress toward NATO membership, among other topics, Sarts said.
Rumsfeld also thanked the three ministers for their countries' contribution to the fight against terrorism. All three countries pledged support to the American-led military operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan late last year.
He noted that the Baltic countries must continue developing their defense forces in preparation for the NATO summit this fall.
"Although Rumsfeld didn't name any preferences in NATO enlargement, the meeting passed in an optimistic tone," said a spokesman for the Estonian Foreign Ministry.
In a separate meeting with the Baltic defense ministers, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage stressed that it was important for the three countries to continue the progress that they had made toward gaining NATO membership and securing what had already been achieved.
Armitage later accepted an invitation from the Baltic ministers to take part in a meeting of the prime ministers from all 10 NATO candidate countries in the Romanian capital Bucharest March 25-26.
Armitage sent a personal letter to the Latvian Foreign Ministry earlier this year calling on the country's government to change a controversial election law that prevents candidates running for political office unless they speak fluent Latvian.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson renewed pressure to change the law when he visited Latvia in late February.
Later, at a conference of the joint Baltic-American committee, former Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey said that the membership of the Baltic states in NATO was no longer a problematic issue in Washington.