Baltic presidents visit U.S. president, but Syria overshadows coverage

Latvian President Andris Bērziņš and his counterparts from Estonia and Lithuania met Aug. 30 with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, but the news hardly registered in the United States.

The meeting with Berziņš, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė was meant to highlight the changes the Baltic countries have undergone during the past two decades and to underscore the Baltics’ close relationship to the U.S.

In the Baltics, of course, the meeting was big news. It was prominently displayed on Internet portals and the evening news.

However, the continued speculation about if and when America might strike at Syria dominated coverage in the U.S. A CBS News report about the pending attack, for example, briefly showed Obama flanked by the Baltic presidents, but did not reveal why they were in the White House.

The Washington Post, in a story focusing on White House reaction to Russia nixing a U.N. resolution about Syria, closed with a reference to the Baltic presidents:

Obama also met Friday afternoon in the Cabinet Room with the presidents of three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — that are on Russia’s doorstep and often act as an irritant to Moscow.

Obama told reporters that the Baltics “are among our most reliable allies in NATO, and our commitment to their security is rock solid.”

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves then offered Obama a friendly boost on Syria: “The use of chemical weapons is deplorable. The attack demands a response. Those responsible must be held accountable.”

The White House website also published a blog entry about the Baltic presidents’ visit, but devoted most of the space to Obama’s remarks about Syria:

The visit underscored the close ties between the United States and the Baltic states, which are grounded in our shared values, ideals, and interests. The leaders highlighted ongoing cooperation on issues including defense and security, trade and investment, energy and the environment, and global development.

The transcript of the news conference with Obama and the Baltic leaders—including remarks from Bērziņš—is available on the White House website.

One outcome of the meeting with the Baltic heads of state is a joint statement, the text of which can be found on the Latvian president’s website in Latvian and English. The statement notes that “the United States has a profound and enduring interest in the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.”

The Baltic diasporas are mentioned in the last paragraph of the joint statement:

The Baltic states remain grateful to the United States and the American people for their non-recognition policy during the Cold War. Our warm relations are anchored by close interpersonal ties and the rich contributions that the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian diasporas have made to the multi-ethnic culture of the United States.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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