Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 132

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott visited Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from July 7 to July 9. On the same tour, Talbott led the U.S. delegation to the inaugural session of the quadripartite U.S.-Baltic Partnership Commission, held on July 8 in Riga (see below). Asked at every step to express support for the admission of the Baltic states to NATO, Talbott responded in general terms that NATO’s doors remain open to countries who meet its criteria. He could neither say in what year the next round of enlargement might take place, nor name the countries that might be invited to accession talks.

At the same time, Talbott urged Russia to “regard the Baltic states not as a passage for invading armies or a buffer against imaginary enemies, but as a gateway outward to the new Europe.” Talbott brought with him the outline of a plan to involve Russia more closely in the Council of Baltic Sea Countries and in regional cooperation projects with those ten countries, in the apparent hope of moderating Russian attitudes toward Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The joint communique issued in Riga did not mention the Russian pressures on Latvia. That country’s foreign minister, Valdis Birkavs, called afterward for “greater clarity in signaling opposition to Russian economic sanctions.” Birkavs pointed out that the pressure on Latvia stems from a Russian leadership that displays elements of the “old thinking”–including a sphere-of-influence mentality and a “command approach” to economics. Birkavs urged the United States, through Talbott, to assert its interests and presence in the region more forthrightly. “Memories are short, such signals should be made regularly.” (BNS, Radio Riga, July 7 through 9)