Estonia and Latvia move towards visa-free access to US

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Estonia and Latvia have signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States on 12 March 2008 pertaining to visas and air security, according to Estonia's president. The deal would move the two Baltic States closer to visa-free status, although its uncertain when citizens of Estonia and Latvia could expect to travel to the US without a visa.

The deal, which grants easier access to the US for citizens of countries who increase their air security, has angered the European Commission, which seeks to act as a sole negotiator with the US on granting visa-free travel to all 27 members of the European Union.

Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves brushed aside criticism from the EC, stating that it had kept Brussels informed on its intentions every step of the way.

"Estonia...has been pursuing this for four years and has kept the European Commission informed at all times about what we are doing," Ilves said. "The Commission only now has decided to say something...No one seemed to care during this process."

He said that it was odd that EU countries which have had visa-free status -- some for decades -- would suddenly say that Estonia and Latvia couldn't have the same deal.

Other newer EU members have been frustrating Brussels' attempts to control the negotiations. The Czech Republic signed a similar deal with Washington in February and Hungary is expected to do the same by April.