Washington, 16 January 1998 (RFE/RL) --The presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania say a U.S.-Baltic charter will strengthen their countries efforts to integrate with the West, as well as help improve relations with Russia.
The Baltic presidents spoke about the meaning of the charter at a joint press conference in Washington today.
Formally called, The Charter of Partnership Among the United States and the Baltic Republics, it is to be signed today (Friday) in a White House ceremony by four presidents -- America's Bill Clinton, Estonia's Lennart Meri, Latvia's Guntis Ulmanis and Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas.
The document Thursday was not yet made public and both U.S. and Baltic officials declined to show a copy to the press but Washington sources said it is a relatively brief document of 49 paragraphs.
At the press conference, the three presidents quoted extensively from it.
Meri said it declares that "the United States has a real, profound and enduring interest" in the security and sovereignty of the Baltic states.
He said the charter recognizes the role of the Baltic states in American strategy to guarantee security and stability in Europe.
Meri emphasized that the charter is not a substitute for Baltic membership in NATO but he said it symbolizes a new phase in the debate over NATO, what he called "an implementation phase."
Meri said "the charter designates practical tools for the preparation of our defenses...and it reflects the level of political will and commitment, our countries are ready to invest in this process."
Ulmanis described the document as "practical, realistic and purposeful." He said it establishes a new political reality of a growing Atlantic partnership between the U.S. and the Baltic states.
"This is the right strategic philosophy for the next century," Ulmanis said, adding that the charter contains, in his words "a resolution to facilitate the further inclusion of the Baltic states in European and trans-Atlantic organizations.
Ulmanis noted that the charter establishes a Partnership Commission to coordinate "practical cooperation in the spheres of economy and security," and he suggested the commission hold its first meeting in Riga in the spring.
Brazauskas quoted a statement from the charter that "the United States of America welcomes and supports the aspiration and striving of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join NATO."
He said it is clear and unambiguous and, in his words "does not provoke discussion and leaves little ground to misunderstanding."
He said "the charter contains a statement on the right of each country to individual security and individual defense, and collective...defense, as well as the right to freely choose security arrangements."
Brazauskas also said the charter contains a number of provisions spelling out the commitments of the Baltic states. "We also have to do our homework...to maintain, follow and foster all the democratic standards and values accepted throughout the world," he said. Brazauskas said the charter includes provisions calling for respect for human rights, press freedoms and the right to join different alliances and organizations.
The three presidents also agreed that the charter will help improve their relations with Russia. Brazauskas said it promotes Baltic cooperation with other countries, including Russia.
Ulmanis said a more distinct Russian policy is emerging in the Baltic region. He said Latvia welcomes, as he pout it "Russian attempts to find ways to increase mutual trust and develop a positive attitude toward the future.
Meri said Estonia wants to build bridges to the future and not look back to the enmity of the past.
He also observed that "allies like NATO and Russia do not need a band of neutral states to stand between them, and could benefit from as close contacts as possible, building on the mutual confidence and trust that already exists."
The presidents today were scheduled to continue bilateral talks with trade and finance officials, as well as jointly attend a reception given in their honor by RFE/RL, and later tonight meet with leading private policy research groups.