Will back NATO al­lies, Pence reaf­firms on visit with Baltic pres­i­dents

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JARI TAN­NER

TALLINN, Es­to­nia — Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence on Mon­day strongly pledged Amer­ica’s com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing NATO al­lies against at­tacks, in­clud­ing the Baltic states, which have anx­iously watched a grow­ing Rus­sian mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion.

“Un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the United States stands firmly be­hind our Ar­ti­cle 5 pledge of mu­tual defense — an at­tack on one of us is an at­tack on us all,” Pence told re­porters af­ter meet­ing with the pres­i­dents of Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia in the Es­to­nian cap­i­tal, Tallinn.

Mu­tual defense is a vi­tal is­sue for the three small for­mer Soviet states that bor­der Rus­sia, which were oc­cu­pied for nearly five decades by Soviet troops un­til re­gain­ing their in­de­pen­dence in 1991 af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union.

The United States never rec­og­nized the claim by Soviet leader Josef Stalin on the three coun­tries — which have a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of 6 mil­lion — al­low­ing Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia to main­tain in­de­pen­dent diplo­matic mis­sions and have their na­tional flags stored at the State Depart­ment through­out the oc­cu­pa­tion.

Say­ing that Trump “knows se­cu­rity is the foun­da­tion of our pros­per­ity,” Pence added that the U.S. and the Baltic coun­tries would seek

new ways to ex­pand pros­per­ity by in­creas­ing two-way trade that cur­rently amounts to $3.5 bil­lion and by in­creas­ing their mu­tual in­vest­ments.

Ear­lier, he met with Es­to­nian Pres­i­dent Ker­sti Kalju­laid, Lat­vian Pres­i­dent Rai­monds Ve­jo­nis and Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite at the baroque 18th-cen­tury Kadri­org Palace, which was built by the Rus­sian Em­peror Peter the Great.

En­ergy is one way that Wash­ing­ton is seek­ing to tighten its com­mer­cial ties with the Baltic coun­tries. It closed a deal in June to sell liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas di­rectly from the United States to the re­gion.

A Lithua­nian state-owned gas trad­ing com­pany will re­ceive the first de­liv­ery of U.S. im­ported liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas this month — some­thing that Pence said will “ben­e­fit not only our pros­per­ity, but re­gional se­cu­rity. And I am con­fi­dent that this deal will only be the first of many.”

Pence said he and Trump were pleased with the deal, which will help the Baltic states re­duce their re­liance on Rus­sian gas.

Later Mon­day, Pence met with NATO troops from Bri­tain, France and the United States who are sta­tioned in Es­to­nia. The al­liance has de­ployed some 4,000 troops and mil­i­tary hard­ware in the three Baltic states and Poland to counter Rus­sia’s pres­ence in the Baltic Sea re­gion.

Be­fore de­part­ing for Ge­or­gia, Pence planted an English oak out­side the head­quar­ters of the Es­to­nian defense forces, joined by the lead­ers of Latvia and Lithua­nia.

Rus­sia’s Septem­ber mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, with 13,000 troops near the Baltic states’ bor­ders, will pro­vide another test of the U.S.’ ties in the re­gion.

Gry­bauskaite told Lithua­nian na­tional ra­dio on Mon­day that the U.S. would dou­ble the num­ber of mil­i­tary jets and in­crease the num­ber of Amer­i­can troops on her coun­try’s soil dur­ing the Rus­sian drills to sig­nal that Wash­ing­ton is mon­i­tor­ing the Baltics sit­u­a­tion closely.

Es­to­nia — which cur­rently holds the ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency of the 28-na­tion Euro­pean Union — is the first leg of Pence’s Euro­pean tour. The U.S. vice pres­i­dent flew later Mon­day to Ge­or­gia, another for­mer Soviet repub­lic, and will also visit new NATO mem­ber Mon­tene­gro, two coun­tries fac­ing strong pres­sure from Rus­sia. In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Li­u­das Dap­kus of The Associated Press.

AP/SHAKH AIVAZOV

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence (left) and Ge­or­gian Prime Min­is­ter Giorgi Kvirikashvili at­tend a wel­come cer­e­mony Mon­day at the air­port out­side Tbil­isi, Ge­or­gia. Pence will meet the Ge­or­gian pres­i­dent and ob­serve NATO-Ge­or­gian mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. Ear­lier on Mon­day, Pence met with lead­ers from Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia in the Es­to­nian cap­i­tal.

AP/MIN­DAU­GAS KUL­BIS

U.S. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence (sec­ond from right), ac­com­pa­nied by the lead­ers of Baltic states (from left) Es­to­nian Pres­i­dent Ker­sti Kalju­laid, Lat­vian Pres­i­dent Rai­monds Ve­jo­nis and Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite, speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence af­ter their meet­ing in the Kadri­org Palace in Tallinn, Es­to­nia, on Mon­day.

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