Lithuania Will Have To Fight for Barack Obama’s Attention

February 2, 2009 at 11:35 pm 2 comments

I would like to offer you an interview of the Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to the USA Audrius Bruzga on his reactions to the President’s Obamas inauguration.  The daily Vilniaus Diena published the interview on January 21.

A new generation politician, who sees the world differently than his predecessor, has entered the White House. On the eve of the inauguration, Audrius Bruzga, Lithuanian ambassador to the US, told our daily what Lithuania can expect after Barack Obama gets behind the wheel of the country in the US.

[Vilniaus Diena] What moods have been prevalent in Washington, as the historical day – the new president’s inauguration – is approaching?

[Bruzga] The presidential election campaign was exceptionally long – two years. However, from the beginning it was clear that Obama was a completely different politician. He is full of energy, youthful vigour, and fresh ideas. Therefore, people have high hopes regarding him.

The inauguration of the first black US president is truly symbolic, because it is conducted right after the Martin Luther King Day. Obama tries to stress the connection with Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president. He tries to present himself as someone who unites and builds bridges in a divided nation.

The election euphoria can still be felt in the US. Polls show that approximately 80 per cent of respondents trust the new president and wish him luck – this is an exceptionally high approval rating. However, it will not be easy for Obama to maintain it. The starting point is very low, no matter what kind of president gets into the White House. The economic situation is very bad and can get even worse.

[Vilniaus Diena] A man who has a new vision and who is ready to fix the pervious administration’s mistakes will head the White House. What changes can Lithuania expect in the ties with the US?

[Bruzga] The US is turning a new page in its history, and the changes seem pretty drastic. There will be many new beginnings. It is hard to say what those beginnings will look like. People are reading the new president’s programmes and are watching Obama’s team. Some of them are already known – they are people from former President Bill Clinton’s team. Recalling Clinton’s presidency, one can expect certain continuity. However, the new president will give the orders. For now it is difficult to predict how he will arrange his priorities.

Lithuania was well respected in the US under Clinton and under George W. Bush. We were a small, but faithful partner. Faithful to the ideas and values, in creating transatlantic security. The dialogue between the two nations was sincere, open, and quite productive. One hopes it will remain so under Obama, too.

[Vilniaus Diena] During Bush’s presidency, Lithuania joined NATO and achieved visa-free regime with the US. What other concrete steps does Lithuania expect from Washington and the new US president?

[Bruzga] The times are changing, of course, and global processes will influence the new administration’s agenda and attention. There will not be enough time and energy for everything. A certain period of time will pass, before the new administration settles down, sets priorities, and starts working.

During this transitional period it is important for Lithuania to establish contacts with the new government, to meet with new officials, and to ensure the continuity of our relations, so that the US’ attention for Lithuania, the Baltic states, and the entire Europe does not diminish.

Lithuania will strongly support the notion of developing and strengthening the transatlantic ties. Lithuania is also for continuing the cooperation between the US and Europe and for fixing the existing gaps.

We will continue the dialogue related to processes in Eastern Europe. I think the new administration’s attention to what is happening in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and the Balkans will not diminish. We must continue cooperating in the area of energy. In this area Europe and the US still have a lot of work to do. The growing need for renewable energy will unite us for common work.

[Vilniaus Diena] According to analysts, Obama is a softer and a more pragmatic president than Bush. Will this affect Washington’s ties with Moscow?

[Bruzga] The emphasis and evaluations will change somewhat, but I would not predict any major changes. During the election campaign and now, during the formation of his programme, Obama has emphasized Russia less. However, speeches by Obama and other members of the new administration show that the changes, if there will be any, will be minimal. Perhaps the stance on Russia will become more reasonable, structured, and pragmatic, and will be less emotional.

[Vilniaus Diena] Is Obama more favourable partner for Lithuania than Bush?

[Bruzga] I would like to emphasize that Bush was very favourable towards Lithuania in his spirit and his understanding of freedom. During his presidency, Lithuania straightened its back, joined NATO, and achieved the visa-free regime. This is a small step, but it is a symbolic sign of freedom development.

We would like to maintain the same ties between the two countries under Obama, too. Of course, Obama, as a politician, is different, a man from a different generation. He did not served in the WWII, the Cold War does not affect him emotionally so strongly. He will view the world in a wider and more pragmatic way. Therefore, it will not be easy for partners to fight for the US’ attention. The new administration will face many challenges and will set its priorities by considering the US’ national interests above all else.

Lithuania will have to try to retain the US’ attention, so that the high bar does not get lowered; so that the US presence does not diminish in Europe and Lithuania.

The fact that Obama plays basketball, and plays it well, is a fact that is favourable and pleasant for us. He will at least understand Lithuania’s enthusiasm regarding basketball. Let us hope this will help him to get to know our country better.

Source BBC Monitoring Service

The Lithuanians are looking for ways of attracting the US’ attention to itself.  Only few days ago in the light of President Obama’s plea to EU allies of accepting some inmates from the Guantanamo bay Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs have announced that Lithuania could possibly shelter few inmates.  Vilniaus Diena paper even has suggested that this could be a good idea, a small price to pay for the USA attention.

However, on Friday Mr Kaseta the deputy Parliament Speaker and the member of the National Defence and Security Committee announced that Lithuania has not made up its mind yet.  Mr. Usackas on the other hand was less enthusiastic about the Guantanamo inmates.  Nevertheless during his interview to the LNK TV Channel the Minister admitted that the Lithuanians are discussing the matter with the US Embassy officials.  It sounds as the Lithuanians will wait or the Brussels reactions and decisions on the issue.

It is assumed in Lithuania that Washington will continue its policy unchanged at least towards the Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.  I know that George W. Bush was an unpopular President.  However, there are words hammered in on the Vilnius’ Town Hall in Lithuanian and English ‘anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America’.  Those words were followed by ‘the long night of fear, uncertainty and loneliness is over.” The President of the USA George W. Bush announced those words to the crowed of the people in the front of the Town Hall in November 2002.  The Lithuanians sincerely hope that President Obama will not forget this promise.   

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Entry filed under: Baltic States, Basketball, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Europe, Politics, USA.

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