US and Baltics seek to sign military deals in January

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The United States and the three Baltic states neighboring Russia are trying to strike defense cooperation agreements before President Barack Obama leaves office, officials have told the AFP news agency, LETA reported December 16.

The inauguration of Donald Trump will take place on January 20 but before that date Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania want to sign individual agreements to strengthen and ensure a continuing US presence, the report said.

Each is trying to reach a "Defense Cooperation Agreement" with Washington that will include provisions on the status of US forces deployed there.

The deals will "complement the existing bilateral and NATO agreements we have in place with each Baltic state to support our rotational military presence in each country," a senior administration official told AFP.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP that although there was no concern about Trump's stance -- despite his questioning of NATOs relevance -- "procedures may take longer when administrations change."

"It is in our interests that it happens soon," he said. "We hope that it will happen at the beginning of next year."

A recent agreement between the United States and Finland - which unlike the Baltics is not a NATO member - deepened cooperation on cyber security, sharing security information and expanding joint training and military exercises.

"The desire to have these agreements illustrates our commitment to a robust, bilateral military relationship with these three NATO allies, and we hope to finalize them soon," Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Sarah Higgins said, according to AFP.

At a summit in Warsaw earlier this year, NATO agreed to deploy multi-national battalions to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Latvian Defense Ministry confirmed to LSM that talks were ongoing.

"The Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia is working with the U.S. on the bilateral agreement on the status of forces and more information will be provided after the agreement will be signed," the ministry said.

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