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US, Baltics Vow Security and Trade Cooperation

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August 30 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama and the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania vowed Friday to cooperate on security and trade as the three ex-Soviet Baltic states made their first joint White House visit since joining NATO a decade ago.

Story updated with statements and new information after the White House meeting

WASHINGTON, August 30 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama and the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania vowed Friday to cooperate on security and trade as the three ex-Soviet Baltic states made their first joint White House visit since joining NATO a decade ago.

“The security of the United States and Europe is indivisible,” Obama and his Baltic counterparts Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania, and Andris Bērziņš of Latvia said in a statement released after talks at the White House.

“The United States has a profound and enduring interest in the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania,” the statement said.

Obama hailed the Baltic leaders as strong allies and partners in NATO, and Grybauskaite said the United States “can count on us as strategic partners.”

The four leaders also pledged to “advance the cyber security of critical infrastructure,” to work together to investigate and prosecute cyber crimes, and to build energy independence in Europe, which is heavily dependent on supplies from Russia, the European Union’s (EU) largest source of oil, gas, uranium and coal.

The talks were held days before Obama was due to travel to Russia for a summit meeting of leaders of the G-20 major economies, and amid soaring tensions between Washington and the Kremlin over Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that “guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the UN Security Council” on Syria has pushed the United States to act against the Assad regime without waiting for the United Nations to pass a resolution authorizing military action.

The United States released an intelligence report Friday that it says contains evidence that the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad was behind a chemical weapons attack last week in which 1,429 people died, including 426 children.

Russia, which on Wednesday blocked a British Security Council resolution seeking the authorization of military force in Syria, has said there is no evidence that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack.

Ilves called the chemical attacks “deplorable” but did not commit to backing any US action against Syria.

The three Baltic states, which were annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, have had historically tense relations with Moscow since they regained independence in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union crumbled. All three countries joined the EU and the NATO military alliance in 2004, and have seen strong economic growth since.

In their statement Friday, the Baltic leaders thanked the United States for refusing to recognize Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as Soviet republics during the Cold War and pledged in their joint statement to help to maintain and expand NATO capabilities “for collective defense, cooperative security, and crisis management, within Europe and beyond.”

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