Washington, 16 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will go to the White House today (Friday) for the ceremonial signing of a U.S.-Baltic Charter of Partnership.
The charter in 49 paragraphs expresses U.S. support for Baltic aspirations to join NATO, affirms their right to join any security or other international organization and, among other things commits the signatories to respect human rights and basic civic freedoms.
It also establishes a permanent joint commission to deepen economic and scientific cooperation between the United States and the three Baltic countries.
At a reception for the three presidents last night, the head of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Tom Dine, said that in years to come the charter will be seen as a remarkable step toward the full and complete reintegration of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into Europe and into the West.
The presidents Lennart Meri of Estonia, Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia, and Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania took time out from a busy schedule of joint public appearances and private bilateral meetings with trade and investment officials to attend the RFE/RL reception and thus demonstrate their support for the Radios.
Dine called the event "an extended family affair" because of RFE/RL's historic role in supporting Baltic independence and freedom of information during the years of Soviet occupation.
He said the informal gathering was "a celebration of recognition, a celebration of democracy."
Dine said "RFE/RL has always had the closest ties with the three Baltic countries in the darkest years of Soviet occupation, in the time of revolutionary recovery of independence and now as they complete the process of establishing democracy."
He said the presence of the three presidents in Washington, documents the advances they have made toward democracy, but also raises questions about the need for RFE/RL in their countries.
He said the Radios now have a different role to play in former communist countries. "We want to provide a model of the highest quality journalism in societies that are now open, where free press and free speech reign," he said, adding "we are going to be with you in the future as you build democracy."
Today's ceremony at the White House concludes the three-day official visit of the Baltic presidents.
But they are expected to remain in the U.S. capital for meetings with representatives of the Baltic American community on Saturday.
Some Lithuanian American activists have criticized the charter for failing to provide security guarantees for the Baltic nations.