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Latvian Leader Urges US to Use Persuasive Powers

In an address to the U.S. Congress, the president of Latvia has said the United States needs to use persuasion, as well as force, as it continues to promote democracy around the world. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga also looked ahead to the NATO summit to be held in the Latvian capital, Riga, later this year.

Addressing a joint meeting of Congress, the Latvian leader paid tribute to U.S. support for the democratic aspirations of people in the Baltic states, central and eastern Europe.

"Latvia remains grateful to the United States for the firm refusal to recognize the illegal occupation of the three Baltic countries," she said. "Along with the other formerly captive nations of central and eastern Europe, we thank America for its steadfast and courageous stand on freedom and democracy."

With the exception of Belarus, President Vike-Freiberga said a wave of freedom and democratic reform has spread as countries accept the need for the rule of law and respect for human rights.

She noted her personal history as a former exile, whose family fled Latvia to escape the Soviet occupation in 1945 who had the privilege of returning to her country to help it "rise from the ashes of oppression."

Latvia was admitted to NATO in 2004, with its Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Albania, Croatia and Macedonia are expected to receive invitations at the November NATO summit in Riga.

President Vike-Freiberga noted Latvia's contributions to multinational forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, saying the November summit, the first to be hosted by a former Soviet republic, will reflect the rejuvenation and transformation of NATO.

In praising the U.S. role in support of liberty, the Latvian president said the spread of terrorism and growing signs of intolerance and xenophobia underscore the urgent need for a meaningful and sustained dialogue between civilizations.

She had this to say about the American role.

"The United States has become a world leader only to the extent that it has not been indifferent to the fates, the aspirations and the opinions of other nations," she said. "For if no man is an island, neither is any country alone and self-sufficient. All of us, large and small, we are interlocked, intertwined and interdependent. If we want peace in the world, if we want international cooperation, persuasion is as important as imposition by force."

The Latvian leader said her country wants a friendly, future-oriented and pragmatic partnership with Russia based on mutual respect, non-interference and true respect for human rights.

Her talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice focused on the NATO summit as well as the upcoming summit of the world's seven richest countries and Russia in Saint Petersburg, as well as requests by Latvia and other new EU member states that the U.S. expand its visa waiver program.