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Baltics: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia Cite Historical, Security Reasons For Backing U.S.

The Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are among the countries that have voiced support for the United States in its war with Iraq. Politicians in the Baltics explain their decision by citing longstanding warm relations with the U.S. and saying the U.S. is the only country that can offer them solid security guarantees. The three states appear to look at current rifts over Iraq in the European Union and NATO are "family quarrels" that will soon be resolved.

Prague, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Latvia offered its official support for the U.S. war in Iraq only last night, following a discussion in parliament. Although Latvia will contribute no combat troops, deputies decided the country will send members of its armed forces for peacekeeping operations following the war.

Inese Vaidere chairs the parliamentary committee of the Latvian Parliament. She tells RFE/RL that one of the reasons Latvia has opted to side with the United States, rather than France or Germany, has to do with her country's history.

"One reason is the constant support of the United States for Latvia, for Latvia's independence and not recognizing Latvia's occupation by the Soviet Union," Vaidere said. "So, we are really thankful for the United States."

Another reason, Vaidere says, is sympathy for the Iraqi people based on Latvians' own experience of living under a dictatorship: "We know what a terrorist and genocidal regime like Saddam Hussein's means. We experienced something like it in the years of [Soviet] occupation. We experienced the regime of Stalin and people like Stalin, and we know what it means for the Iraqi people."

Vaidere says it is too early to say how many Latvian citizens will back the government statement of support. Recent surveys indicate that only a third of Latvians support a war in Iraq.

Like Latvia, Lithuania plans to offer its troops for peacekeeping in a postwar scenario. Gediminas Kirkilas is the chairman of the Lithuanian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee: "The arguments [for supporting the U.S.] are very simple. From the very beginning, from September 11, [2001], Lithuania, as you know, has taken part in the antiterrorist coalition. That is the first argument. We consider this current action to be a part of the war on terror. We are consistently pursuing this policy. Lithuania is also one of the most active NATO candidates. As you know, our attitude has always been consistent in supporting U.S. actions."

Kirkilas goes on to cite U.S. security guarantees among other reasons for Lithuania's support: "There are many reasons, among them historical. The U.S. always supported Lithuania in its drive to join NATO. Several years ago, [Lithuanian] President [Algirdas Brazauskas] and other Baltic leaders signed the Baltic Charter with the United States and it became the first security guarantee. That's why we have chosen this path and don't want to be involved in the 'family quarrels' in the [NATO] alliance. On the other hand, we are concerned that these quarrels may amount to some kind of political divorce."

Kirkilas says he does not believe Lithuania erred in taking an opposed stance to EU members France and Germany, despite the fact that it is slated to join the bloc next year.

"France was skeptical about [EU] membership not only for Lithuania but also for other candidate countries," Kirkilas said. "France took a skeptical position last summer toward the problem of [Russian transit through Lithuania from the Russian exclave of] Kaliningrad. I would say its position was rather unfriendly toward Lithuania. [Our position] is not some kind of revenge [against France], but in this case we are supporting those who are more important for us."

Kirkilas says Lithuania's position on Iraq is unlikely to affect ratification of the EU accession treaties in France and Germany.

Trivimi Velliste is a member of the Estonian parliament's State Defense Committee. He tells RFE/RL that while the war "does not concern Estonia directly," his country supports the U.S.-led campaign because Iraq has failed to meet the disarmament obligations set out in United Nations resolution 1441: "This is moral support and also political support [for the U.S.], when we have to choose between the bad option and the still-worse option -- because we understand that the United States does not have any splendid options, because nobody is in favor of war, as such. The Estonians are certainly not warmongers and I don't believe the Americans are [either]. But, on the other hand, we do understand the predicament that America is in."

As for the debate still raging within the European Union over Iraq, Velliste says Estonia does not want to take sides, and that it only wants to see trans-Atlantic unity restored as soon as possible.