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Baltic States: Charter Creates Framework For Special Relationship

Washington, 16 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - A senior Latvian diplomat says a Baltic-U.S. charter is essentially complete with only a few "fine" points remaining to be resolved, and that it includes at least moral support for Baltic memberships in NATO.

Ambassador to the United States Ojars Kalnins said Tuesday's talks at the State Department in Washington among Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the U.S. were "very productive and successful."

The talks did not produce a final document, said Kalnins, but he told RFE/RL on Wednesday that there are no obstacles to an agreement that can be signed by the presidents of the three Baltic republics and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Kalnins said the sides hope to have a ceremony in Washington early in December.

A U.S. State Department spokesman who asked that his name not be used said the document is "99 percent complete" and should be finished "in the coming weeks."

The agreement is formally called "The Charter of Partnership Among the United States and the Republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania." The State Department says the charter expresses the shared vision for a new, integrated Europe that is democratic, prosperous and undivided.

The idea for the charter was born of the desire of the three Baltic republics to become full members of the NATO military alliance. At its July summit in Madrid, the 16-member alliance invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to become the first of the Central and Eastern European nations to join NATO. However, NATO also told the Baltic states, as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia, that Madrid was not the end of enlargement, only the beginning.

On a visit to Vilnius a week after the NATO summit, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the charter would not be a replacement for NATO membership and would not be a security guarantee. But she did say the charter would "codify a lot of the common values that the Baltic States and the United States share, our view of an undivided Europe, and the importance of cooperation across the board." She called the charter concept, "an umbrella that allows us to cooperate on the basis of shared values and goals."

Senior diplomats from each of the three Baltic republics held a full day of talks at the State Department on Tuesday with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Canada Ronald Asmus in an effort to conclude the negotiations. Diplomats from the three countries and the U.S. said the remaining issues would be worked out through regular diplomatic channels.

While it would not provide a text of the draft partnership charter, the State Department said Wednesday that the document "does address Baltic integration" into European and Trans-Atlantic institutions such as the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Trade Organization, and NATO.

The charter document, says the State Department, reiterates support for the NATO enlargement process. It says the U.S. "welcomes and supports," the efforts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join NATO, and it adds that NATO membership for each country can take place when each has proved itself "able and willing to assume the responsibilities and obligations," that membership requires.

The charter will not be a binding agreement, however, Baltic diplomats have said the document is significant because it creates a framework for a special relationship between the three republics and the United States.