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Latvia, Estonia Sign Deals with US on Visa-Free Travel

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The United States has signed agreements with Latvia and Estonia that will allow the Baltic countries to join a U.S. visa waiver program later this year.

In Estonia, Interior Minister Juri Pihl and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff signed the deal Wednesday, which requires law enforcement agencies in both countries to share passenger data. Chertoff and Latvia's Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins singed a similar pact later in the day in the Latvian capital, Riga.

Fifteen member-countries of the European Union currently share travel information with Washington under the waiver program. The information exchange is aimed at detecting travelers with possible links to terrorist organizations. Without the waiver, Europeans need visas for even a short stay in the United States.

The Czech Republic signed a similar deal with the United States last month, prompting sharp criticism from the European Union.

EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini Tuesday urged all union members not to violate EU rules with separate agreements and to maintain a common position in talks with the United States on the visa issue.

Last week, the European Union asked Washington to grant visa-free travel to all 27 members of the trade bloc, rather than separate deals with each government.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said some EU countries had unresolved concerns about Washington's agreements with individual countries.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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