FULL COVERAGE: The US Presidential Visit As It Unfolded
Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) was a primary channel for television and multimedia coverage of US President Barack Obama's visit to Estonia. The ERR News live blog rounded up the day's action, sights and sounds.
Air Force One - wheels off the ground. Obama, like Estonia's 1990s President Meri, is known to be late. Not this time. Nostra culpa; ERR and many other media outlets were caught off guard. Obama had time to quickly meet US servicemen and then waved good-bye and was off.
On to Wales! Thanks for tuning in. We'll keep this blog open for a while to catch up the big day's events.
The Police Board said Obama's motorcade has reached the airport.
Obama has finished his speech at the Nordea Concert Hall in which he reiterated US support for the Baltics. The full video will be available soon.
Correspondent Stuart Garlick is outside the Nordea Concert Hall, where people are filing in for Obama's speech. (ERR News's Scott Abel is already inside.) He speaks to Brett Toft, an American who has been living in Estonia for the past five years.
The technical difficulties earlier in the day were not caused by DDOS or other cyber attack, in case you were wondering, but unusually heavy load on Public Broadcasting servers, especially on news.err.ee and rus.err.ee, ERR's IT department said.
After a meeting with Obama, PM Taavi Rõivas presented the US president a picture of a basketball game at the 1936 Olympics. The game was between Estonia and the United States and the first ever game at the Olympics for the United States. The game itself was the highest scoring match in Berlin that year, with the US running out 52-28 winners and going on to win the gold medal.
In case you missed it, pure gold at 6:49 of the press conference. Obama:
I should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our healthcare website.
A reference to Estonian IT prowess. Also, President Ilves's New Jersey heritage gets burnished, as Obama mentions that Ilves and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, go way back.
While Obama is visiting Estonia, Russian President Vladimir Putin, much the reason for the US president's visit, is on a trip to Mongolia, with six of his ministers, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Putin is hoping to sign an agreement to open the two nations' borders for visa-free travel.
The sound of a helicopter is heard at ERR offices, which during this busy day means President Obama is on the move. Next up: meeting with PM Taavi Rõivas and then the Baltic presidents. The fresh report from the press conference with Estonian President Ilves is here.
Press conference about to begin at the Bank of Estonia venue. Speculation about whether the delay before the press conference was related to some last minute huddling about the surprise Ukraine ceasefire announcement. Some of the questions at the press conference were reportedly pre-scripted.
Obama was greeted upon arrival at the Estonian president's Kadriorg residence in a ceremony that featured children from Tallinn Science School, a school in the city center with long traditions (the students played a role in the War of Independence, among other things). Along with them, there was a boy from western Lääne County who wrote a letter to the US Embassy titled "I have a dream," his dream being to meet Barack Obama.
Today that dream came true - he got to shake Obama's hand and some one-on-one time too with the president, along with an autograph.
Obama also met Estonian Office of the President staff, senior officials, Parliament Speaker Eiki Nestor and Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas.
ERR News special Stuart Garlick is "patrolling" the area around Solaris Center (nearthe site of Obama's speech) and the US embassy.
Police maintaining what an officer refers to as "visual control" of area in a rough one kilometer radius around Solaris. I asked why there was the cordon around an area of road that had limited influence on the Nordea concert hall, but was just told it was "a security problem". The word "problem" may be lost in translation.
In addition, after the bridge, on the way into the center, Pärnu mnt is ghostly. I'd expected traffic chaos, but instead I saw motorists perhaps overreacting to today's restrictions and overwhelmingly staying off the roads.
There is a helicopter in constant rotation over the area including Solaris, Kentmanni and the US embassy
Solaris also very quiet today, though it remains open. The street in front of the embassy, closed to traffic for years, is still open to pedestrians, he says, but the police have two unmarked cars there.
How thorough is the security in Tallinn during the visit? An ERR News staffer went to a local restaurant outside the Old Town near Kentmanni street Tuesday to get a reservation to eat after after Obama's speech, figuring there might be a waiting line. (The neighborhood is by the US Embassy and the Bank of Estonia, which will be stops on Obama's route today.)
The staffer was told that the road by the restaurant was closed that evening while Obama was in town. That wasn't a problem for the reservation, but the worker said that security for the Obama event had requested that the restaurant give a list of all the staff working at the establishment that day and their national ID numbers, so security could do background checks.
Pick the right eatery in Tallinn today, and your dinner might might be delivered with code-word clearance.
On Twitter, some commenters, such as @Tarmo Paju here, noting that Obama's visit seems to have done wonders for the city's late-summer traffic problems.
Delfi and other sites reported crews hurriedly fixing potholes in the last days prior to the visit so that the motorcade would have an easier ride. (The public's take seems to be less charitable about the spot roadwork. "Potemkinville," said one anonymous commenter.)
The magic of technology: those who didn't get a seat in the Nordea Concert Hall can watch Obama give his speech this afternoon on a giant screen on Freedom Square, Tallinn. The weather is superb in Tallinn today, incidentally.
The press conference at 11:40 will also be screened there.
Sleep will be at a premium for both presidents, Obama and Ilves. Obama arrived before midnight Washington time and has only an hour before meeting Ilves, who returned from his one-day-plus Norway state visit at 2:47 this morning. (Obama, as the Estonian media have also noted, is known for retiring late and preferring to work into the night.)
Video of Obama arriving an hour ago.
One ERR News staffer made the commute past the Swissotel at around 6:05 this morning as Air Force One was on final approach. A very calm early morning. A security gate had been erected by Stockmann department store at the intersection; that street is shut off and anyone coming down Tartu mnt from the airport direction wouldn't be able to continue straight. Police standing on every corner and there was a definite police car presence, about half of the vehicles on the streets at this early hour were the blue striped cars. A helcopter was buzzing above the same neighborhoods for about 15 minutes before 6:00, adding a little excitement. (This is Estonia; there aren't even any traffic helicopters here.)
Air Force One touched down at 6:22. US President Barack Obama will now proceed to the Swissotel 3km away from the airport, in the city center. First up later this morning: the meeting with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Police say the Tallinn University stretch of Narva maantee is the best place to stand and watch the motorcade pass - wide sidewalks. Times are from 9:30-11:00 (on the way to Kadriorg) and 11:30-13:00 (coming back from Kadriorg).
Security updates: Black Hawk and Apache helicopters arrived at Tallinn Airport yesterday. Finland will also see a share of the action, with two US transport planes landing at Helsinki Vantaa Airport, YLE reported.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet will meet US President Barack Obama when he lands in Tallinn.
Trash cans being removed from the city center, as was done for Bush's visit in 2006.
Scott Abel has a wealth of information behind the security procedures for US presidents and near misses in the last few decades.
The procedure for President Obama's speech at the Nordea Concert Hall in the afternoon has been set. The doors to the venue for invited guests will open at 13:30 Estonian time Wednesday, and will be sealed at 15.00. They will be re-opened at 17.00.
ETV will carry the event live, and we will have a video stream on this blog.
The ticket distribution was handled by the US embassy through an online system where an e-mail invitation was sent. If accepted, guests used an online system to gain access to their ticket. The seats were assigned before acceptance by the embassy.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is handling the accredition of the media, the speech and the press conference at Kadriorg being the two major events.
According to government sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, Obama's visit will begin somewhat later than originally planned, with the US president arriving after sunrise tomorrow, not late tonight. Kadriorg, where the Estonian president resides, will be the center of the late morning and early afternoon events, including a press conference with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and meetings with Baltic leaders. ERR will have four live segments during the course of the day.
The detailed schedule is embargoed on security considerations. As reported earlier, though, Obama will speak at the Nordea Concert Hall in the afternoon.
Estonia may not be widely known as a golfing destination, but Obama's visit is a chance to profile two of the courses near Tallinn.
Good news for parents as schools will not be closed on Wednesday, drones, hot air balloons, low flights, parking in some areas are however, all temporarily banned.
A transcript of a conference call between US Senior Director for European Affairs Charles Kupchan, National Security Spokesman Caitlin Hayden, and journalists has been released. The two talk about President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to Estonia, and then to Wales, where many world leaders will attend a NATO summit.
In the teleconference, Hayden and Kupchan was asked what kind of message Obama was sending by coming to Tallinn:
HAYDEN: I think when the President is in Estonia - I mean, his goal is to reaffirm our commitment to not just the Baltics but the defense of our NATO allies, our commitment to the Article 5 at NATO. And so, look, when the President speaks I think it’s a chance for him to talk to many different audiences, both in the Baltics, in Russia, in Ukraine, our European partners, and folks back here in the U.S. as well. So I think he’ll be reiterating that message to everyone. I don’t know if Charles has anything he wants to add.
KUPCHAN: I would simply add that it is clearly not accidental that the President has decided to stop in Estonia on the way to the NATO Summit. The two stops are essentially part of the same effort to send a message to the Russians that their behavior is unacceptable. You have in Estonia a large Russian population, and therefore part of the message that the President will be sending is, we stand with you; Article 5 constitutes an ironclad guarantee of your security; Russia, don’t even think about messing around in Estonia or in any of the Baltic areas in the same way that you have been messing around in Ukraine.
Kupchan also addressed the President's position on positioning permanent NATO troops or NATO bases in the Eastern European countries:
KUPCHAN: I think that the discussions in Wales will focus intently on the kinds of measures that need to be taken to reassure Estonia and its neighbors, and that we will see more military activity in your part of the world, including training exercises, defense reform, defense capacity building, increasing rotation of NATO troops through Estonia and through the region in which Estonia resides. I doubt that we will see movement toward the creation of what one would call permanent forward bases. As you probably know, there is something called the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and that act addressed the question of the setting up of permanent bases, and NATO is in a situation right now in which it is refraining from moving in that direction.
So I think that the important words will be “persistent” rather than “permanent” -- that is to say we will see persistent rotation, persistent exercises to ensure that Estonia and that other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are provided the reassurance from NATO and the presence of NATO needed to meet their security needs.
You can read the entire transcript of the teleconference here.
Estonia's top tennis player Kaia Kanepi will face Serena Williams, the highest ranking US and world player tonight in New York. The winning nation will get bragging rights at the meeting of the presidents on Wednesday.
Police official assures that the massive security operation will handled professionally. Nothing too surprising, but a curious quote:
People will be allowed to come to their windows and look outside. It is unusual if someone tried to throw a broom handle outside a window. That is unusual and will draw our attention."
US presidents have had shoes and ice buckets thrown at them. If there's some significance to broom-throwing, please let us know.
Initial cost of Obama's visit calculated at around 500,000 euros, mostly on the 1,500 to 1,700 additional police officers on duty during the trip. The stop-over should last for around 18 hours, which means each hour will cost 30,000 euros.
A briefing was held at the Foreign Ministry on the details of the visit. Here they are, including what we knew before:
Obama will arrive late on September 2 or early on September 3, and proceed to either the Swissotel or the Radisson SAS, where he will catch a few hours of shuteye. He is due to meet President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in mid-morning, followed by a joint press conference. Obama will then head to Stenbock House in the Old Town to meet Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas. Next up: all three Baltic presidents will meet with Obama.
Obama will deliver an address at the Nordea Concert Hall (the former Nokia, in the Solaris Center). Obama and Rõivas will review US and Estonian troops upon Obama's departure in the afternoon. Official times have not been announced yet.
Our "in case you missed it" roundup of Tuesday's developments on the NATO front, including from the Finnish papers.
The Guardian is reporting on the basis of an interview with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen that NATO does plan permanent deployments in Eastern Europe (the "brief answer" on permanence is a "yes," Rasmussen said). It's a strong signal.
Obama was recently urged to "channel JFK," but did you know that John F. Kennedy visited Estonia? He did so in in the late 1930s as an undergrad. The US Embassy's Facebook site has the dirt on that as well as a 19th century visit by a man who would one day be president.
The only sitting US president to visit Estonia so far, George W. Bush, managed to visit all three Baltics on separate occasions, including two visits to Riga - in 2005 as well as for the NATO summit in 2006 (combined with the Tallinn visit).
Obama's schedule is still unconfirmed and - because of unprecedented levels of security for Estonia - probably still in flux. To this point, the story is the security - as reported here first, the operation will include 1,700 police and border guard officers, 300 home guard members, snipers and rooftops, and reinstated border checks on border with other Schengen countries.
Delfi reported today that residents of a building in downtown Tallinn had received a letter from the property management company informing them that Tornimäe tänav would be closed to foot traffic and cars on September 2-3 and police permission would be necessary to enter Tornimäe 7. That's next to Swissotel, and residents were further instructed to close shades and blinds on the Swissotel side of the building.
What we know now about Obama's schedule: it's likely to involve more than one motorcade between Kadriorg district, where President Toomas Hendrik resides and which has potential reception infrastructure, and the city center where Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas has his office. A press conference with Ilves and a meeting with the Baltic presidents will also be worked into the day's schedule.
Obama is expected to deliver a public address in Tallinn. It is currently believed that organizers will not opt for an outdoor speaking venue, such as Town Hall Square, where US Vice President Al Gore spoke in 1995. Then First Lady Hillary Clinton had a meet-and-greet opportunity on the square the following year and took a turn on the folk dance floor with an Estonian journalist at the Open Air Museum. Such events appear to be casualties of the post-9/11 era and did not figure in either Clinton's 2010 visit as Secretary of State or in George W. Bush's 2006 presidential visit.