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View All Transcripts: Ask the Ambassador | Ask the State Department

Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Catherine Todd Bailey, discussed the Baltic Regional Energy Forum, as well as current developments in U.S.-Latvian relations.

Catherine Todd Bailey, U.S. Ambassador to Latvia
Catherine Todd Bailey
U.S. Ambassador to Latvia

Event Date: 6/18/2007

Billy from Tennessee writes:

With regard to U.S. and Latvia relations, do you think Latvia was assimilated into NATO too quickly before things were settled among former Soviet republics?

Given the recent situations in Georgia and Estonia, it seems the Baltic former Soviet republics were quick to jump into NATO, and NATO was all too quick to take them before Russia and the Baltic States had settled their disputes.

Ambassador Bailey:

Latvians are proud of their freedom and see NATO membership as a way to secure that freedom. NATO is, at its heart, a security alliance based on shared values of democracy, respect for individuals, and economic freedom. From 1940 on, Latvia was not free to determine its own destiny. Nazi and Soviet occupations, following secret deals, left Latvia a captive nation. With the restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991, it was free to determine its own course. The Latvian people decided they wanted to join NATO. They had to do a lot of work to meet NATO's strict criteria for membership and they had to convince the then 19 members of the alliance that they were ready and able to take on the burdens and responsibilities of NATO membership. The decision on who to bring in to NATO is one only for NATO members to make; no other country has a veto. As President Bush said when he visited Riga last year for the NATO summit, Latvia and the other Baltic states will never again stand alone.

Amir from Washington, DC writes:

From your perspective, how has the National Guard State Partnership Program assisted Latvia? Can you discuss the greatest benefit and success you've seen with this program? Thank you for your service to your country Ms Bailey.

Ambassador Bailey:

The National Guard State Partnership Program provides the Latvian Armed Forces and Latvian National Guard (Zemesszardes) familiarization with US forces, tactics, techniques and procedures, through the Michigan National Guard. This relationship has smoothed integration of Latvian forces into NATO and US-led coalitions operating in a variety of international arenas.

On June 14, the partnership celebrated a successful end to its 2007 Summer Shield exercise, in which 22 troops from Michigan came to Latvia to provide medical, maintenance, and logistics training for Latvia's troops serving in Afghanistan.

Andro from Tbilisi, Georgia writes:

Ms. Ambassador: How would you evaluate Latvian-Georgian relations in a context of assistance to Georgian integration into NATO? Thank you.

Ambassador Bailey:

Latvia is cooperating very closely with Georgia on their NATO aspirations and we applaud the role they've taken. We think that Latvia is a role model in many ways for other transitional countries in the region, and I'm very pleased to see the government of Latvia share their experiences from their own NATO accession process. We helped facilitate in January meetings between various Latvian officials and a visiting Georgian delegation to discuss the reforms and policies Latvia implemented to join NATO, and Latvia has followed up on those meetings with visits to Georgia by Foreign Minister Pabriks and specialists from the Latvian Defense Ministry.

Lieselotte from Germany writes:

Ambassador Bailey, would you agree that the market-based reforms in Latvia have led to the excellent performance of the Latvian economy? Where do you see any deficits within the development of this Baltic tiger? Can Latvia be called a model state of those countries which have been undergoing transformation for the past 17 years?

Ambassador Bailey:

Definitely the business-friendly and pro-market policies of the Latvian government have contributed to Latvia's astounding economic growth. In this aspect, Latvia is a model for transitional countries on how to create an economic climate that both encourages domestic commercial growth and attracts investment from abroad. The United States is the seventh largest foreign investor in Latvia. US investments are on the rise. In November 2006 GE Money expanded its existing investments in Latvia through the purchase of Baltic Trust Bank. In April of this year, a management agreement was signed to build a Hyatt Regency Hotel. U.S. investment in Latvia has doubled in the last four years.

Of course, this high GDP growth has resulted in a rise in inflation, which the Latvian government is addressing and must be solved to keep the economy moving forward. Another challenge caused by such rapid growth is Latvia's ability to keep pace with needed infrastructure development. Latvia is experiencing a boom in construction, and as new residences and businesses are completed, it will be a major challenge to design and implement the needed transportation, utilities and services infrastructure which will be required.

Dylan from Colorado writes:

Do you believe are the challenges facing Latvia in trying to integrate itself into the EU energy infrastructure and what is Russia's role in the energy relationship with EU as it pertains to Latvia? Thank you very much for your answer and any references that might be available.

Ambassador Bailey:

Dylan, your question is a very timely one. These issues were key topics of discussion during the Baltic Regional Energy Forum, which we hosted here June 11 - 13. Our presenters and forum participants from the US, the region, and Europe expressed a wide variety of opinions regarding Latvia's energy relationship with the EU and Russia. The bottom line is Latvia will have an energy relationship with Russia; the EU will have an energy relationship with Russia. But that relationship should be based on transparent market deals fairly arrived at, not signed under political pressure or when there is a threat to cut off supplies.

Integrating Latvia into the EU's energy infrastructure presents a number of challenges. First, there is simply the technical challenge of trying to integrate two energy infrastructures built under different systems--one built largely under the Soviet system, the other in Western Europe. Another technical challenge involves linking up energy grids that are separated by the Baltic Sea. A third challenge entails coordinating the energy policy goals of a number of different countries facing different energy demands. This last point, political coordination, will require a lot of dialogue and intensive discussion among the Baltic States and with their neighbors. The conversations I heard during the Baltic Regional Energy Forum showed me that Latvia is up for the challenge.

You can learn about the forum and see the presentations given there at http://www.usembassy.lv/media/BREF2007programme.pdf.

Muhamet from Kosovo writes:

Ambassador Bailey, I would like to know how is the U.S.-Latvian relations in the context of the Russian cooperation with the Baltic States.

And, Eric from California writes:

Dearest Ambassador: I have been reading about the Baltic countries recently and their relationship with the United States and with NATO in particular. It seems that Russia is more of an adversary than a friend when it comes to its relationship with the Baltic States, especially given Putin's statements to the fact that relations are those of the Cold War. Aren't the main sources for Latvian energy coming from Russia? What is the U.S. doing to secure Latvia's energy security and prosperity? Are the Baltic countries able to act as a group of similarly interested countries or are they unable to pressure Russia, the EU, and others to pursue their ends?

Ambassador Bailey:

Muhamet and Eric, your questions are similar so I will answer them together. I am happy to tell you that I personally have a good relationship with the Russian Ambassador to Latvia. We meet regularly and talk openly. We don't always agree, but that's OK. What matters is that we talk. US-Russian relations are complex and we will never agree on everything. However, on June 5, in Prague, President Bush emphasized that the Cold War is over and that the US sees Russia as a partner. He expressed a desire to continue to work with Russia and to have positive relations, while drawing attention to serious concerns we have about freedom of the press and political opposition in Russia.

In terms of energy, Russia's role as a key energy supplier requires it to behave responsibly in managing those resources. For both the EU and the US, the key is maintaining dialogue and addressing differences with Russia frankly, while continuing to cooperate where possible. With regard to the Baltics, we advocate that the business of energy should be a commercial matter, guided by market forces, not one subject to politics. The market should determine the price of natural resources--including oil and gas. All of us need to work collaboratively to convince nations all over the world to let the market drive such issues.

Martin from Germany writes:

Ambassador Bailey! How would you describe the U.S.-Latvian relations? What aspects do you think ought to be improved?

Latvia and the United States enjoy a deep friendship. We stand shoulder to shoulder in the Global War on Terror. Latvians truly understand the value of democracy and their responsibilities as free citizens. President Bush has visited Latvia twice in 18 months; May 2005 and November 2006. Few countries receive such attention at the highest levels. Our ties our underpinned by shared values of democracy, rule of law and market economies, but they are strengthened by the strong personal bonds between President Bush and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who will leave office in July after eight strong years as President.

While Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in May of 1990 and formally regained it in 1991, our diplomatic ties continued during the iron grip of communism. We never recognized Latvia's occupation by and incorporation into the Soviet Union. Latvia's Minister of Foreign Artis Pabriks, along with the foreign ministers of Lithuania and Estonia, were in Washington, D.C. on June 14 celebrating with Secretary Rice 85 years of unbroken diplomatic relations between our countries.

One area where we think that Latvia could do more is in strengthening the rule of law. This is essential in any democracy. But it is an issue in our relationship, because it is key to building our economic ties. American businesses investing in Latvia want to know that their investments are safe and contracts will be respected. I anticipate some very fruitful discussions on this issue when Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Samuel Alito participates in a judicial conference in Riga on July 2nd and 3rd.

Daicacoddaus from Uzbekistan writes:

Dear Madam, what is your opinion about the reform carried in Latvia over the legislative and government control of Latvian secret service?

Ambassador Bailey:

Earlier this year, the Latvian government passed some changes to the laws governing Latvia's security and law enforcement services. The primary goal of the changes was to improve oversight of the services, which is an essential element of a democratic society. But some parties and officials in Latvia and outside felt that the changes were adopted hastily and could potentially make the system vulnerable to penetration or misuse. Having heard the concerns, and after the President suspended implementation of the laws for two months, the government decided to repeal the changes.

Ducky from New Hampshire writes:

Our Boy Scout merit badge class was wondering what it takes to be a good international citizen. We are currently discussing what it means, and would be extremely appreciative of any input that you may be willing to offer.

Ambassador Bailey:

Ducky, that's a great question. I'm proud to say that we have quite a few Eagle Scouts working here at the US Embassy in Latvia. When thinking about what it takes to be a good international citizen, I would encourage you to look to Scout law. All of the goals you strive to attain as a Boy Scout are applicable to being an international citizen. In particular, I would encourage you to discuss the following:

Be helpful. Find a way to volunteer in your community. By helping others in need in your hometown, you do your part to ease the world's suffering.

Be thrifty and clean. By taking care of your community and doing your part to conserve energy and natural resources, you will leave the world cleaner for your future and future children.

Be friendly and courteous. Learn more about cultures different from your own, and be willing to share yours with others in return. Never doubt the power of friendship in breaking down walls between people and creating peace.

Mark from Wisconsin writes:

What is Latvia's position regarding the U.S. missile defense shield that the U.S. wants to install in Central and Eastern Europe, the one that Russia so fiercely opposes?

Ambassador Bailey:

Latvia has been supportive of our efforts to establish a missile defense program in Europe. Prime Minster Kalvitis and Foreign Minister Pabriks have both spoken positively of the project. The Latvians share our view that a rogue state or terrorist group could get hold of missile technology and launch an attack on the US or our Allies. This is what Alliances are all about - sharing a common vision of the threats we face and how best to address them.

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