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Baltic States: Charter May Be Finished Today

Washington, 14 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- High-level delegations from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are expected at the U.S. State Department today for what diplomats hope will be the concluding work session on a charter agreement between the three Baltic states and the United States.

Einars Semanis, the deputy chief of mission at the Latvian Embassy in Washington said the document, or at least a major portion of it, could be finalized today. If it is finished this week, the pact could be ready for signing by the presidents of the four countries in late November or early December.

The charter is not a treaty and it is non-binding. Nevertheless, Semanis says it is a very important geopolitical and historic document.

He told RFE/RL that the charter could formulate what he called a special relationship between the U.S. and the three republics.

The U.S. never recognized the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union at the dawn of the Second World War, and since the three nations regained independence, the U.S. has said the territorial integrity of the Baltic states is of the utmost importance to the U.S.

However, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were not included in the first round of the enlargement of the NATO military alliance, but they hope to boost their security and integration with the West through the U.S. charter.

"The charter would deal with cooperation between the U.S. and the Baltic states, a common vision, common projects and common aims of cooperation in the political and economic fields," Latvian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrejs Pildegoviechs told Reuters.

The Latvian Embassy's Semanis said the charter pays special attention to strengthening regional cooperation in the economic and security spheres, but he also said a major portion of the document is linked to U.S. support for Baltic integration into Western institutions.

Practical ways to achieve increased cooperation would be set out in the final text.

Semanis said there are no principal disagreements in the way of a final document. However, according to Reuters, one of the final hurdles is whether there will be one charter or three separate bilateral agreements, which Lithuania reportedly wants.

The news agency quoted a Lithuanian Foreign Ministry official as saying there was no such legal entity as the Baltics, and so his country wanted three bilateral pacts.

Estonia will be represented at the talks by Juri Luik, Estonia's ambassador to NATO and Sven Jurgenson of the Foreign Ministry's security policy department. Latvia's delegation will include its number-two diplomat, Secretary of State Maris Riekstins, and security policy expert Peteris Vinkelis. Lithuania's delegation includes Vice Foreign Minister Albinas Januska. The ambassadors of all three countries are also expected to take part in the talks. The State Department will be represented by Ronald Asmus, the department's expert on NATO alliance enlargement.

NATO has invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to become its first new members from Central and Eastern Europe. Romania, Slovenia, Bulgaria and the Baltic nations also want full membership as soon as possible. NATO has said repeatedly that the first round of expansion will not be the last, but no timetable has been set for a second wave of invitations.