Senior officials in the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania expressed their pleasure Friday at their countries' admission to the Unites States' visa waiver program, dpa reported.
President George W Bush announced Friday at the White House that the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea had all met the necessary criteria to earn visa-free status.
The move means that citizens of the Baltic states no longer need to undergo the lengthy and costly process of applying for a visa to the US, provided they have a modern-style biometric passport.
Citizens of countries covered by the US visa waiver program can visit the US for up to three months without visas provided they are not working or studying.
Speaking to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa during an official visit to Kazakhstan, Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet said: "When President Bush visited Estonia, he announced that he was working to achieve this result. Now the process has come to an end and before the end of the year we will be able to go without visas to the United States."
Paet said that as Estonia and the United States share the same values, the step was "completely normal" and that the refusal rate for Estonian citizens applying for visas had always been very low.
In Latvia, President Valdis Zatlers said "It is an achievement and a valuable gift for the state holiday," referring to the fact that this weekend Latvia celebrates 90 years since it first declared its independence.
Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus, a former senior official with the US Environmental Protection Agency, made a point of thanking President Bush.
"This is really pleasing news to all the people of Lithuania. Many of our fellow country people living on both sides of the Atlantic have been long waiting for the possibility to meet with their family members and friends," he said.
Adamkus added that the introduction of a visa-free regime would further strengthen transatlantic ties and promote cultural and business contacts.
"We can say that today saw the disappearance of yet another artificial division that separated the citizens of Old Europe from the citizens of New Europe," Adamkus said.