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Public Papers - 1991 - September

Remarks to Representatives of the Baltic States

1991-09-11

Thank you very much. Listen, this is a very joyous day. And let me first start by thanking our Secretary. I don't expect there's a person here today that's come to the White House for this event that hasn't known, personally, Ed Derwinski. I expect all of you respect him as I do.

This cause, this concept of freedom for the Baltic States, has been his cause for a long time, long before he became a Secretary in the Cabinet, all through his congressional days, and before that. And I've been with him as he's been to certain of these ethnic festivals, and I've seen the affection for him in your communities. And so, I wanted to start by saying how fortunate I am I can have him at my side in the administration, and to thank him for his steadfast support.

I also am very pleased to welcome all of you to the White House. I view this as a special and, certainly, historic event: the freedom, the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and those free countries.

So also, let me give a warm welcome to a distinguished visitor, the Speaker of the Estonian Parliament, Mr. Nugis, who's with us today, and ask him to stand. Welcome to you, sir.

I'd like first to pay tribute to the many leaders, the men and women in this room, who stood resolutely for so many years in support of freedom in the Baltics and throughout the dark days of the cold war. The Baltic peoples had two indefatigable champions in the United States: their fine diplomats in Washington and this power that came from the Americans of Baltic heritage. Neither ever allowed the world to forget the crime visited upon the Baltic States 51 years ago.

And I've just had the privilege of visiting with these people standing behind me, these three gentlemen, remarkable men: Consul General of Estonia, Mr. Jaakson; the Charge of Latvia, Mr. Dinbergs; and the Charge of Lithuania, Mr. Lozoraitis. And I salute them, all of them.

Each of these men deserves our respect and our admiration and our gratitude for this tireless devotion to freedom and for helping us, reminding those of us in public life that we must never forget the Baltic peoples. When they'd come to these receptions, people would wonder about it, but I'm proud that the United States always had them there. But they were a reminder, in person and in group, a reminder of the need to press forward for freedom.

I'd also like to praise our other distinguished guests today, the leaders of the community, and I guess that includes everybody here, or you probably wouldn't be here. Few have done so much for their homeland as you have. I know it's appreciated in your home countries. You've honored both the countries from which you have sprung and the country in which you now live. And Americans are especially gratified by the restoration of Baltic independence.

You know, since Roosevelt, since President Franklin Roosevelt, one of the men for whom this room is named, we are in the Roosevelt Room, as you know, he refused to accept the Soviet occupation of the Baltics in 1940. And ever since then the United States has pressed for the international recognition and the independence of the Baltics.

And in many meetings with President Gorbachev during the last 2 years, we reiterated, and I did personally, and Jim Baker did over and over again, making it abundantly clear that there was no alternative to freedom for the Baltics. And I'd like to think now that, hopefully, in some way that made a difference in convincing the Soviet leadership to do the right thing. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are free again, and we welcome them back to the commonwealth of freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is our responsibility, all of us as Americans, to help the Baltics integrate fully into the West, to nurture these young democracies, to help them transform their economies towards a free market that we all know works so well. And I'm therefore very pleased to announce today a series of measures, beginning measures to start this process which the Secretary of State will be discussing with the Baltic leaders when he visits the region in not so many hours from now.

But first, I'm pleased to announce that, and this is a fait accompli, I'm pleased to say also that the United States will sponsor Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for membership in the United Nations at the General Assembly on September 17th, just as we supported them for membership in the CSCE earlier this week.

Second, as many of you know, the United States safeguarded for over 50 years financial assets of the Baltic Governments. And we look forward to working with the independent Baltic States on arrangements for unfreezing the gold and other assets as soon as possible and move forward on that just as quickly as we can.

Third, we will move quickly to normalize our own economic relationship with the Baltics by extending the most-favored-nation treatment and including them under the trade enhancement initiative designed to increase their trade with the West. And we'll also provide GSP and OPIC benefits. And we'll continue the work we've already started to provide medicine for the Baltic hospitals.

Fourth, we will help the Baltics to integrate into the world economy. This is a big one, a very important one, economic integration. We will encourage the IMF and the World Bank to work closely with the Baltics to prepare them for membership. We hope that membership in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will proceed on a fast track, and we will also support Baltic participation in the OECD Center for Economies in Transition.

And fifth, we will work closely with our allies in the G - 24 process to coordinate economic assistance to the Baltic States. For our part, the U.S. intends to extend a variety of technical assistance and other programs under the Support for Eastern European Democracies Act.

Finally, I'm delighted to announce today that we will move immediately to establish a Peace Corps program for Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania.

Let me say in closing that as the United States was true to the Baltic States in captivity, we will continue to be true to them as democratic partners in the years ahead.

It's been a pleasure to contemplate this, for me. At least, and I think for others here, this emotional event. It is a special day. When these three worthy advocates of independence of the Baltic States came into the Oval Office, I think they, too, felt the emotion of the moment. I expect many of you, too. We want to do our part; we want to lead. We want to help these new countries, and many of you, all of you, almost all of you, as Americans can do your part in the future, just as you can take great credit for the part you've played in the past in keeping administration present, administrations past, aware of the need to fight and stand for Baltic independence.

Congratulations to each and every one of you, and may God bless the Baltic States and the United States of America.

I think, unless you all want to say something, that concludes my role. But listen, I'm delighted you all were here. There's the newest American and Baltic parity, right there. [Laughter] The youngest in the whole world.

Note: The President spoke at 1:25 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski; Ulo Nugis, Speaker of the Parliament of Estonia; Ernst Jaakson, Estonian Ambassador-designate to the United States; Anatol Dinbergs, Charge of the Latvian legation to the United States; Stasys Lozoraitis, Lithuanian Ambassador-designate to the United States; President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union; Secretary of State James A. Baker III; and a baby who was in the audience.

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