U.S., Baltic states sign partnership pact
January 16, 1998
Web posted at: 6:03 p.m. EST (2303 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Leaders of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania signed a partnership agreement Friday with the United States -- a possible step toward NATO and European Union membership for the three former Soviet states.
The document, formally known as the U.S.-Baltic Charter of Partnership, was signed in a White House ceremony by U.S. President Bill Clinton and presidents Lennart Meri of Estonia, Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia and Albirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania.
Clinton said the agreement will "help reaffirm our common vision of Europe, whole and free."
"Today, your democracies have taken root, and you stand among us as leaders of fast-growing democracies," Clinton told the Baltic leaders.
The pact, which, as a non-binding agreement, doesn't require U.S. Senate ratification, gives the Baltic states an American commitment to strengthen political and economic ties and discuss security and other matters. It also commits the United States to helping Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania become part of NATO.
Baltic nations celebrate their independence after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union
But to avoid antagonizing Russia -- which strongly opposes the expansion of NATO to its borders -- the document stops short of guaranteeing the security of the three countries. It also avoids setting a timetable for their membership in NATO or giving the Baltic countries a guarantee of future membership.
The Baltic leaders took great pains to reassure Russia that the pact should not be seen as a threat.
"Allies and partners, like NATO and Russia, do not need a band of neutral states to stand in between them," Meri said.
"We all understand the U.S.-Baltic charter is not directed against a third country or third country groups," Brazauskas said.
Russia offered its own security guarantees to the Baltics, but the answer was a polite "no thanks."
Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were overrun by the Red Army in 1940 and annexed as republics of the Soviet Union. The Baltic states broke free when the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991, but their membership in NATO was put on the alliance's back burner after Moscow objected to their inclusion.
The charter was negotiated as a compromise, after a NATO summit in Madrid last summer invited Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join the alliance and left the door open for Slovenia and Romania.
Correspondent Betsy Aaron and Reuters contributed to this report.