Baltics praise US support, Obama calls for minority justice

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The presidents of the three Baltic states praised the United States' commitment to the region Wednesday as US President Barack Obama delivered a powerful address in defense of democratic principles and tolerance. 

Speaking to the press after a meeting at Kadriorg Museum, the three Baltic presidents took it in turns to express their gratitude for Obama's visit and to stress that the NATO summit due to take place on Thursday and Friday would map out the region's long-term security.

"Our defense cooperation is close and we appreciate the steps the United States has taken," Estonia's Toomas Hendrik Ilves said, adding that the NATO summit's decisions would "guide allied nations for years to come."

Ilves also said Georgia and Moldova should not be forgotten while attention was focussed on Ukraine and that they "must have the right to make their own security arrangements."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, true to form, did not mince her words when it came to the Ukraine conflict, condemning "open aggression from the Russian side" as "an attack not only against Ukraine but against the peace and borders of Europe."

"Today Ukraine is fighting not only for its own freedom, it is fighting instead of us," Grybauskaite said, describing the country as a "front line".

"We very clearly know what we want from the NATO summit tomorrow, what kind of measures improving our security," Grybauskaite said, listing revised defense plans, an additional NATO and US presence in the region, a rapid reaction force and other measures.

For his part, Latvia's Andris Berzins said he commended the US on boosting its presence in the region.

"We would like to see US troops and equipment in Latvia as long as necessary," Berzins said before flagging up Latvia's attempts to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and its upcoming stint holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union in early 2015.

Before departing for a rousing speech at a concert hall in central Tallinn Obama said: "I want every Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian to know they will never stand alone." 

In his showpiece address, he tempered liberal praise for the achievements of the Baltics in becoming democratic societies, by urging them to be more considerate of their minorities.

"We reject the lie that people cannot live and thrive together, just because they have different backgrounds or speak a different language.  And the best antidotes to such twisted thinking are the values that define us. 

"We must acknowledge the inherent dignity and human rights of every person—because our democracies cannot truly succeed until we root out bias and prejudice, both from our institutions and our hearts.  We must uphold a free press and freedom of speech—because, in the end, lies and misinformation are no match for the truth.

"We must embrace open and inclusive societies, because our countries are more successful and more prosperous when we welcome the talents of all our people, including minorities. That’s part of the work we must do," Obama said to enthusiastic applause.


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