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Lithuania amps up its US diplomatic presence with Donald Trump in the White House.

With the new US President, Donald Trump, warming up at the Oval Office, officials in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia courteously praise American democracy and the Americans' choice in the landmark 2016 presidential election. Yet the Trump triumph has rattled local political establishments, prompting them to look for new friends and reaffirm the existing friendships at the highest US echelons of power, some insiders claim. The Baltic Times asked three Baltic countries' Ministries of Foreign Affairs to take questions on that. Renatas Norkus, Director of the Transatlantic Cooperation and Security Policy Department at the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Raimonds Jansons, Director-General for Communications --Press Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, kindly agreed to answer the questions. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry of Estonia provided a terse statement stating that, the election of Donald Trump as the President of the US "does not influence the longstanding US-Estonia relationship" based on shared values between the two countries.

Does the Ministry see Donald Trump's presidency as an opportunity or a challenge? Or both? In what way?

Renatas Norkus: Every change in US administration gives the Lithuanian diplomacy a task to establish close working relations with the new leadership and staff in the White House and State Department. Until now, Donald Trump's team has been sending contradictory foreign policy signals, which suggest the inner debate on main policy lines is ongoing. We have to be proactive, use this opportunity and present our arguments to Washington. This year Lithuanian diplomatic presence in the US will be expanded. We will also put additional effort into strengthening parliamentary diplomacy with the US.

Raimonds Jansons: We are committed to working with the new US Administration to cement what has already been achieved under the strategic Latvian-American partnership over the last 25 years, and at the same time take forward our cooperation. We are prepared to work pro-actively by doing outreach activities.

Is the Ministry concerned about US President Donald Trump's amicable tone on Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Renatas Norkus: Mr. Trump has promised to build the US-Russia relationship on a new base. However, the respect to the principles of international law should remain the essential constituent of the relations with Russia. In trying to maintain dialogue with Moscow, we should avoid any actions that would legitimize the annexation of Crimea, destabilization of Eastern Ukraine and Russia's military role in the Syrian conflict. This is the only viable road to keep international security architecture safe.

Raimonds Jansons: It has been a tradition for the last decade that the US Administrations explore possibilities for cooperation with Russia in the areas where the interests of the US and Russia converge. We should not prejudge any decisions by the new incoming administration.

What homeworks has the Ministry done domestically in preparing for Donald Trump?

Renatas Norkus: In the past years, a solid foundation has been laid for the long-term strategic partnership with the US. Bilateral relations between our countries are very robust, productive and mutually beneficial. Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius paid three official visits to the US last year. Lithuania remains one of the most pro-American nations in Europe. Bilateral economic relations between Lithuania and the US are expanding. The US is becoming an important Lithuanian trading partner--export of goods of Lithuanian origin to the US has exceeded export to Russia more than three times.

Raimonds Jansons: First and foremost, we need to move ahead with building our defense capacity and resilience in the face of today's security challenges. The calls from the U.S., expecting a more serious attitude from its European allies to their commitments, is nothing new. The subject has already been discussed during the term of the outgoing US administration. Latvia's defence budget is amongst the fastest growing in the world in terms of percentage of GDP. In 2017, we will spend 1.7 per cent of GDP on defence compared to 1.4 per cent in 2016 (449 million euro in 2017 vis-a-vis 367.9 million euro in 2016 means, an increase of 81.1 million euro). The government is committed to achieving 2 per cent by 2018 and stands firm in its pledge. Being a small and open economy, Latvia would also continue supporting free trade. Latvia sees the US as an important trading partner and is willing to continue improving bilateral trade and economic relations.

What do you believe to be the first signs to look for as the signals on President Donald Trump's policies in Eastern Europe and the Baltics?

Renatas Norkus: Full implementation of decisions taken in NATO Summits in Wales and Warsaw are a key to the security of this region. The deployment of multinational battalions in Poland, as part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence, is led by the US as the framework nation. In addition to that, the US increases its military presence in Europe, by deploying additional armored brigades to Poland. We welcome the arrival of the American forces in our region. At the same time, we expect the US to remain actively engaged in the Baltic States through exercises, pre-positioning and cooperation of special operations forces, defense planning, and other support to strengthen security and resilience of the three countries.

Raimonds Jansons: Latvia is set out to continue active cooperation with any US administration and Congress, just like it has been doing in the past 25 years.

Who represented your country in the inauguration of President Donald Trump?

Renatas Norkus: Rolandas Krisciunas, the Lithuanian Ambassador to the USA, represented Lithuania at the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

Raimonds Jansons: Latvia's Ambassador to the USA, H.E. Mr Andris Teikmanis.

Do you consider forging closer ties with the Baltics-friendly US senators and congressmen to offset possible uncertainties from the Donald Trump administration?

Renatas Norkus: The Lithuanian Parliament and Government maintain good contacts with the Democratic and Republican parties, and NGO community in the US. We will continue working with members of the Congress representing both major parties of the US. This remains one of our work strands in developing close and mutually beneficial cooperation with the new U.S. administration.

Raimonds Jansons: Latvia has been enjoying a good relationship with both parties --the Democrats and the Republicans for many years. Following the occupation of Ukraine in 2014, Latvia has welcomed a steady flow of visits from US Senators and Congressmen. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have held similar positions on the issues related to Transatlantic Cooperation and Security, and therefore important to Latvia.

Latvia's parliamentarians together with their Estonian and Lithuanian colleagues visited the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early December 2016. It should be noted that this year marks 20 years of the House Baltic Caucus. This would be a very good occasion to thank the congressmen who have been keen supporters and friends of the Baltic States.

What are the other ways that the Ministry considers to employ in making sure that the Baltics are seen and heard at the White House and at the US legislature?

Renatas Norkus: In order to reach out to different target groups, Lithuanian diplomats will be working more actively with multipliers at hand. First comes the Lithuanian American community. We will expand our network to include Lithuanian Americans with close ties to the US Government. Second, coordination with partners. We will encourage Latvians, Estonians, Poles and other Europeans to speak one voice in Washington and try to better coordinate our diplomatic efforts. Third, more active public communication, which means new projects in the American media, and better use of social networks as tools to communicate our message.

Lithuania is actively engaged in Nordic-Baltic cooperation with the US (enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe), which is a useful format to tackle the issues of mutual interest. We have been working to deepen this kind of cooperation, with special emphasis on security, defence, economic, and energy areas.

Raimonds Jansons: We in Latvia will do everything to keep successful cooperation with the US going. With the new US Administration appointed and taking office, Latvia will keep working as before. We know our commitments, and we will keep our word, and do what has been promised. The EU and the US should continue their cooperation and dialogue. A summit has to be convened on our transatlantic agenda: combating terrorism; security and defence; migration; trade and economic growth; energy and climate change; Arctic exploration; and others.

Is there a probability that your foreign minister will have a chance to meet the new US State Secretary at an event in the months to come?

Renatas Norkus: An official visit of Minister Linas Linkevicius to the US is planned for the coming months (February or March). The program will include meetings with the new US administration.

Raimonds Jansons: We never exclude any eventuality, and would be ready for the meeting whenever an opportunity arises.

Caption: Renatas Norkus, Director of the Transatlantic Cooperation and Security Policy Department at the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Caption: Raimonds Jansons, Director-General for Communications--Press Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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Author:Jegelevicius, Linas
Publication:The Baltic Times (Riga, Latvia)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jan 26, 2017
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