March 17, 2008
BRUSSELS (AP) — At least three more eastern European EU members will pursue visa-waiver agreements with Washington this week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Sunday.
He did not identify the three, but other officials said they are Slovakia, Hungary and Lithuania. Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia already have signed preliminary visa-waiver deals with Washington.
The six nations joined the EU in 2004. Their push for no-visa deals has irked the European Commission, which wants to negotiate travel accords on behalf of the entire 27-nation EU.
The first tourists from the three countries could enter the U.S. without visas before the end of the year, Chertoff told a weekend conference of the German Marshall Fund of the United States on trans-Atlantic security issues.
His address capped a week-long trip through Europe during which Chertoff and EU officials agreed to start a new round of talks over Washington’s demands that EU nations meet new travel security measures in exchange for visa-free entry into America.
The U.S. wants air marshals on flights and electronic travel authorization as part of a new visa waiver law that could also require EU nations to provide more data on passengers on trans-Atlantic flights — demands that have upset EU officials.
Washington’s readiness to proceed with bilateral deals at the same time has caused some trans-Atlantic tensions. Chertoff has said U.S. laws requires bilateral agreements because countries do not meet security standards to the same degree.
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