- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Latvia and the protest

The last official trip taken by former Latvian Ambassador Ojars Kalnins was to Seattle for the World Trade Organization meeting that was shut down by violent protesters.

The new Latvian ambassador, Aivis Ronis, arrived in Washington in time for the demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Ronis told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday that he appreciated the irony but remained perplexed about the protest.

He was confused by the young men and women who talk on cell phones, wear imported athletic shoes and recruit each other over the Internet to protest against the very global economy that brought them such prosperity.

Mr. Ronis, who was staying in a hotel in the middle of the protest area, said the protesters must not understand the good done by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"The IMF and World Bank are very close partners to our countries," he said referring to the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. "They are one of the architects of our reforms, of Baltic growth.

"These are not the people who worked in factories or on farms," he said of the protesters. "These are people who have benefited by the new technology."

Mr. Ronis, who at 31 is one of Latvia's youngest ambassadors, is also a product of the new age.

At 20, he was a television journalist working for Latvian freedom from the Soviet Union. When Latvia declared independence in 1991, he joined the Foreign Service as one of only 15 diplomats. Today there are 500.

Mr. Ronis served as deputy secretary for foreign affairs and as ambassador to Turkey last year.

Mr. Ronis said his main goal as ambassador is to achieve Latvian membership in NATO, a quest begun by Mr. Kalnins.

"We feel NATO membership is closer for us than ever before," he said.

Mr. Ronis believes membership in NATO, as well as the European Union, for all three Baltic nations is more than a security or economic issue.

"The debate is becoming more of a moral debate that a military one," he said.

"The EU and NATO symbolize European statehood in the 21st century. It will give us a right to participate in the decision-making process in Europe. Without membership, we would feel neglected.

"The United States," he added, "is not only the leader in politics and the economy but also in the values of humankind, the values of democracy."

Mr. Ronis believes the United States will support the expansion of NATO to include the Baltics, even though that would extend the alliance to the Russian border.

"We cannot believe the United States would support the position of [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic, [Russian nationalist Vladimir] Zhirinovsky or [Russian acting President Vladimir] Putin and others who oppose NATO expansion," he said.

U.S.-India forum

Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers and Indian Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha this week signed an agreement to create the India-United States Financial and Economic Forum.

"The objective of the forum is to strengthen the financial and economic relationship between India and the United States through regular government-to-government meetings of economic policy-makers," the Indian Embassy said in a statement.

The Treasury secretary and finance minister will act as co-chairmen of the forum and meet annually.

Officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Council of Economic Advisers will meet more often with their counterparts in India.

"The sub-Cabinet-level meetings are expected to focus on the strengthening and development of financial services through mutual exchange of experiences on issues relating to capital markets in the two countries and macro-economic and investment issues such as, structural reform, fiscal and monetary policies, and bilateral trade issues," the embassy said.

Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra; E.A.S. Sarma, India's secretary of economic affairs; and Indian representatives on the boards of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund also attended the signing ceremony in Washington.

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