TALLINN, Estonia U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Estonia before a NATO summit in neighboring Latvia in November, Estonian officials and the White House said Thursday.
Bush will stop by the Baltic country on Nov. 28 for talks with Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and President Arnold Ruutel, officials said.
Ruutel's office said the 78-year-old head of state invited Bush to visit the country of 1.3 million on his way to the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, on Nov. 28-30. Estonia joined the alliance, as well as the European Union, in 2004.
The former Soviet republic is a close U.S. ally, with troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A White House statement said the president's trip would underscore NATO's role in "fostering a Europe whole and free."
It said the visit would highlight "new allies that have successfully transitioned to free-market democracies, contribute to the war on terror and offer lessons learned and expertise to others pursuing liberty."
The United States never recognized the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union in 1940, and has kept close ties with the three countries since they regained their independence in 1991.
I am glad they referred to Estonia as a Baltic country rather than the dreaded "Baltic republic." Still, they managed to work "former Soviet" in there. It's also "former Swedish province of ..." too. I wonder if that was common in the eighteenth century...
Anyway, no matter what you think of him, Bush will be the first US president to visit Estonia. Clinton has been there, but not while he was in office. None of the presidents from Wilson through Roosevelt made it there the first time around.
What does it mean? The US is an important country of 300 million people. Bush is among the most high profile of world leaders. That's a lot of free publicity for a small northern European country.
BORDER TREATY BLUES
In other news, Estonia and Russia are still at an impasse over that pesky border issue.
A deputy Russian foreign minister said Thursday that Russia insists on resuming negotiations on a border agreement with Estonia to avoid any future territorial claims.
Vladimir Titov said Russia was seeking further talks to prevent a situation when Estonia could make territorial claims against Russia using a border agreement that the two sides signed. Estonia ratified the agreement but Russia refused to follow suit after Tallinn inserted some new provisions.
"The problem is that they [Estonians] included provisions in the ratification law that can be seen as legally entitling them to make some territorial claims on us," Titov said.
The two countries signed border agreements on May 18, 2005, and the Estonian parliament ratified the documents on June 20, but with additional demands linked to the 1920 peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Estonia. On September 6, Russia notified Estonia that it was revoking its signature from the treaties because the 1920 document was no longer valid.
Titov said more than a month ago Russia had proposed including a provision "that all the previously signed agreements and treaties in bilateral history outlining the border line are invalid."
Estonia's basic position is that the preamble of the border treaty does not affect the border treaty's content and therefore there is no need for further border talks. Russia though, seemingly paranoid about land claims from Tiny Estonia, won't sign it. There are some undercurrents about the Tartu Treaty of 1920 and the Occupation - Russia says that the Tartu Rahu isn't valid and that the Occupation was a liberation - but aside from that I wonder who will have the good sense to put this thing to rest.
I could see, for example, Estonia passing a document that renounced its title to the land in the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920 not covered in the current agreements. But, as Postimees pointed out in an editorial recently, who knows what displeases and pleases the Russians. Why should Estonia have to twist and turn so that Russia will sign its name to the border treaty. And now that Estonia is in the European Union and NATO, what difference does all this make?