MFN Status for Soviet Union Angers Baltics

BALTIC leaders are resigned to the Bush administration's proposed offer of most-favored-nation trading status for the Soviet Union, but they say they want no part of it.Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian officials claim White House efforts to link the Baltics to a United States-Soviet trade accord threaten to compromise the Baltics' fight for independence. They argue that their inclusion in any US-Soviet agreement is a dangerous international recognition of the incorporation of their republics into the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union forcibly annexed the Baltics in 1940. The administration's agreement, which would give both the Soviet Union and the Baltics the lowest possible trade tariffs, also has "special provisions for the Baltic states" including technical assistance in trade development, export promotion, and separate accounting for Baltic exports. "If the Baltic States are not specifically excluded from this treaty, good-faith negotiations between the Soviet Union and the Baltic States may be delayed indefinitely," Baltic leaders wrote one month ago in a letter to President Bush. Instead, Baltic leaders have sought to renew formal trade relations with Washington they enjoyed in the past, independent of any US-Soviet agreement. The US entered into MFN treaties with Estonia and Latvia in 1925 and with Lithuania in 1926. "These were suspended in 1951 when the US-Soviet MFN treaty was suspended, in order to prevent the Soviets from taking advantage of the Baltics' MFN relationships with the US," says Albrecht Muth, Estonia's foreign ministry representative in Washington. "Our logic is, if MFN is reinstated for Moscow, then there is no reason for the Soviets to take advantage of the Baltics' MFN status with the US," Mr. Muth says. "If you look at the US State Department listing of treaties still in force, you'll find the Baltic treaties," he says. "They're still in existence, they're just suspended." SEN. Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey introduced legislation July 31 to grant separate MFN status to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania independent of MFN for the Soviet Union and on the basis of the existing treaties with the US. Mr. Bradley's bill has been heartily endorsed by Baltic leaders. "Anything substantially weaker than this bill could be interpreted by hard-liners in Moscow as a signal that the United States is essentially not interested in the Baltic issue," warns Arnold Ruutel, president of the Su preme Soviet, Estonian Republic. Mr. Bush's Aug. 1 proposal, sent to Capitol Hill just days before the legislators broke for August recess, is seen by Baltic leaders as a way to assuage Baltic demands. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater stressed the administration's evenhanded approach last week by stating that the trade agreement "in no way alters the longstanding policy of the US of not recognizing the forcible incorporation of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia into the USSR or our support for their legitimate ri ghts." Baltic nationals remain unconvinced. "The nonrecognition [of the Soviet occupation of the Baltics] question is a question of principle," says Victor Nakas, Washington manager of the Lithuanian Information Center. The Bush administration proposes to violate that principle, Mr. Nakas says, and it can't get around that "just by saying it doesn't violate that principle." "While there are some practical benefits to being included in the trade agreement, there is a bigger concern that we should not be part of any US-USSR arrangement," says Ojars Kalnins, spokesman for the Latvian legation in Washington. Hearings on the MFN agreement will commence in September, when Congress reconvenes. While the controversy may still be unresolved, Mr. Kalnins says a Latvian representative is coming to the US to handle US-Latvian trade issues.

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