U.S. Ambassador to Estonia James D. Melville, Jr. and Estonian Minister of Defence Margus Tsahkna on Tuesday signed a bilateral agreement on defense cooperation between the U.S. and Estonia that will regulate in more detail the status of members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their dependents as well as contractors of the U.S. Armed Forces residing in Estonia.
"This agreement is part of the intense cooperation that we have with the U.S. in order for NATO's eastern border to be protected and peace to be ensured in this region," defense ministry spokespeople quoted Tsahkna as saying. "The agreement is symbolic for ensuring long-term defense cooperation between Estonia and the U.S."
The U.S. ambassador described the agreement as a major step for enhanced defense and security cooperation in the context of the NATO alliance. He said that the agreement establishes the framework for an enhanced defense and security cooperation partnership between the U.S. and Estonia.
The accord must next be ratified in the Riigikogu.
The need to set out better regulation of the presence of allies in Estonia arose in connection with the presence of U.S. Armed Forces in the country. The proposal to sign such an agreement was made by the U.S. in August 2016.
The Estonian government gave its nod to the agreement and authorized the defense minister to sign it last week.
New agreement to complement, replace, existing agreements
The agreement complements an existing agreement on the status of armed forces between NATO member states (NATO SOFA), spokespeople for the government said. It will reduce the red tape related to the stay of members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their contractors in Estonia and make available to them certain advantages based on common strategic interests and principles.
The document will replace the agreement on the use of land plots and structures of the Estonian Defence Forces that was concluded in 2015 by means of exchange of notes between the governments of Estonia and the United States.
The accord will not restrict Estonia's exclusive right to grant permission for the entry of members of the U.S. Armed Forces, military aircraft and military vessels into Estonia.
It was also regulate the application of Estonian penal law to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their dependents; the document determines in greater detail in which cases the jurisdiction of Estonia as the receiving state and in which the jurisdiction of the U.S. as the sending state will apply to members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The focus of the tax exemptions envisaged under the agreement is primarily on goods and services meant for official use. One of the basic principles in international defense cooperation is that no country must earn money at the expense of the armed forces of the sending state.
Estonia has previously signed a similar agreement with Germany, for example; the U.S. has signed similar agreements with Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Bulgaria, among other countries.
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla