SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning, again. I’m really pleased to welcome my friend, Edgars Rinkevics, the Foreign Minister of Latvia. And he is here to discuss a number of issues, actually, that I also shared with our friend from Sweden, but some other issues in addition to that.
Latvia, at this time, is playing the important role of the presidency of the EU from now until July. And in that role, it underscores the importance of what is happening in the European response, unified to Ukraine, to the aggression that has taken place there, the violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. And Latvia understands that as well as any country in the world, because they are a frontline state with respect to this challenge, and they are also a very important NATO ally.
So let me affirm, as clearly as I can today on behalf of President Obama and the United States, that our Article 5 obligations are absolutely rock-solid. We are engaged in major reassurance efforts at this point in time, which we will continue. And we’re very grateful to Latvia for its commitment to raise its defense spending to the 2 percent and meet the requirement of NATO. They’re setting a strong example to the rest of our NATO partners, and we appreciate that leadership enormously.
Also, it is important that their presidency of the EU takes place right now, because they are a very strong supporter of the TTIP, the trade partnership. And this is a time for us to try to take away the mythology that some people have spread, the complete inaccuracies about some things that people fear, and point out that this is a way of kicking all of Europe’s economy into gear. This is a job creator. This is something that is of enormous importance on both sides of the Atlantic. It represents 40 percent of the GDP of the world and it will raise standards, not lower them, and be good for both Europe and the United States.
Beyond that, we obviously face the challenge of violent extremism that has spread into Europe as a consequence of some of the events in the Middle East and the terrible distortions taking place to a very legitimate and historic religion. There is nothing in these extremists that represents true Islam. And so we stand united in our efforts to push back against this violent extremism. And all of us have responsibilities, and I’m glad that Latvia has recognized its own and is stepping up to be helpful.
So I’m glad to welcome Edgars here and look forward to our conversation. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER RINKEVICS: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I’m really glad to be here. As you have correctly pointed out, since January 1st, Latvia has taken over the EU presidency, and we certainly want to, during our presidency, expand our cooperation in areas that are related to the fight against terrorism.
Right now as we speak, in Riga we have informal ministers of justice and the interior of the European Union meeting, where sort of measures are being discussed. But they also understand that there is a need for broad international cooperation when it comes to the fight against ISIL and it comes to the fight – the phenomenon we have just recently witnessed in the terrorist attacks in Paris.
TTIP, as you rightly mentioned, is something that we would like to see promoted as negotiations unfold during our presidency and beyond. We do believe that it has extremely important economic but also geopolitical value. And we are very much looking forward to work with you, with your government, to do our best to have the progress during negotiations.
Finally, Ukraine and the situation, as it now unfolds, is an area of concern. And Latvia believes that both EU and the United States should maintain very close cooperation. We should also look into possibility of further sanctions as the situation deteriorates; I’m ready to discuss with that.
Finally, I just want to say that it’s always great to be back. Our partnership between the United States and Latvia has been very strong. I want to thank the United States for providing necessary assets as a part of NATO effort to increase security in the Baltic States.
So there is plenty issues to discuss, and I’m very much looking forward to a very good visit here, meeting with different U.S. officials, discussing variety of bilateral and EU, the United States business.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what can you do about the fighting in Ukraine?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re working on that very, very closely, and we’ve had conversations directly with the Russians and others. And I think Russia knows what it can do immediately to be of help, and we hope they will. Thank you.