Baker, on whistle-stop tour of newly free Baltics, pledges some aid

September 15, 1991|By New York Times News Service

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III made a whistle-stop tour of all three Baltic republics yesterday, promising them help in joining international organizations to solidify their break from the Soviet Union and limited U.S. economic aid.

The Baltic leaders made it clear to Mr. Baker that despite their new independence, 100,000 Soviet soldiers remained on their soil with no firm agreement on withdrawal, U.S. officials said.

Mr. Baker said that Washington was prepared to provide $14 million in aid this fiscal year to be divided among the three republics. The Baltic leaders were clearly hoping to get more, but the chief issue on their agenda was security.

U.S. officials said the Baltic leaders urged Mr. Baker to do all he could to help speed their integration into the United Nations, which is already in the process of making them full members, as well as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The Baltic leaders are still concerned that the triumph of reform-minded forces in Moscow over the coup's hard-liners could be reversed, and with it their own independence.

Mr. Baker said Washington was already working to speed the Baltics' membership in the United Nations and had helped push them into the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe earlier this month, and he promised to work on other organizations as well.

His visit was the first by a U.S. secretary of state to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union as a consequence of a secret pact between Adolf Hitler and Josef V. Stalin on the eve of World War II.

The three began separate independence drives after Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power and attained freedom this month by a resolution of the council temporarily governing the Soviet Union in the wake of the coup.

Soviet officials have told both Baltic and U.S. officials that they recognize that Soviet troops will have to leave the Baltic nations. But they add that they are simultaneously withdrawing from Poland and Germany and that the nation lacks the housing right now to accommodate all returning military men.

Moscow has told the Baltic leaders and Mr. Baker that it would like to have all troops out by January 1994, but the Baltic leaders want them out sooner.

Asked whether he could not do more to get the soldiers to leave sooner, all Mr. Baker would say was: "Everyone agrees that the sooner that would be accomplished, the better it would be."

Mr. Baker spent Friday night in Leningrad, holding talks with its mayor, Anatoly A. Sobchak. Then, starting yesterday morning, he hopped from one Baltic republic to another in a trip that was longer on symbolism than substance.

His brief remarks outside the Estonian Parliament in Tallinn were typical of those he repeated at each stop, changing the name of the republic or the president.

"Let me say how very pleased I am to be here in a free and independent Estonia," Mr. Baker said. "We have congratulated all of the officials of this government for the realization after all of these years of a goal we in the United States have shared -- that is the restitution of your full independence -- and we have also made clear that without the bravery and courage of the Estonian people, this would never have happened."

The visit had the feel of a political campaign swing -- including a 15-minute departure delay in Leningrad (which will officially be renamed St. Petersburg on Oct. 1) while Mr. Baker held up his motorcade to wait for the sole American network camera crew accompanying him.

But the trip was lacking one key element: crowds. Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians paid virtually no attention as Mr. Baker's motorcade sped in and out of their capitals, save for a few hundred Lithuanians who turned out at the Parliament in Vilnius.

The biggest spontaneous reception Mr. Baker received was a smattering of applause from a crowd gathered for a funeral at the Russian Orthodox Church across from the Estonian Parliament in Tallinn. The funeral happened to be starting just as Mr. Baker arrived. The mourners applauded him, and he waved back.

The seeming lack of interest by average Balts in their high-level American visitor can be explained in part by the fact that the United States -- although it never formally recognized the republics' annexation by Moscow -- dragged its feet in formally recognizing their independence, being the 37th country in the world to do so, after Mongolia.

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