January 17, 2017
Courtesy of the Baltic Times

Lithuania and the United States signed on Tuesday an agreement on the status of U.S. troops on Lithuanian territory.

The document was inked by Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis and Anne Hall, the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania.

The minister said that the signing of the agreement marked “a historic day for Lithuania-U.S. defense cooperation”.

“I am confident that U.S. troops’ presence here is a key factor that allows people in Lithuania to feel safer in today’s security situation and I hope that the constant presence will continue in the future,” he said during the ceremony.

The U.S. ambassador said that the agreement “reaffirms the two countries’ mutual commitment to work side-by-side strengthening the NATO alliance”.

The U.S. was also to sign such an agreement with Estonia on Tuesday after signing one with Latvia last week.

Baltic and U.S. negotiators aimed to finalize the agreements before the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump as the arrival of the new administration might push the issue to the bottom of the political agenda.

The bilateral agreements on defense cooperation, known among military officers and diplomats as “bilateral SOFAs”, are drafted at the U.S. initiative. They define the status of U.S. troops and their families. The agreement with Lithuania will take effect after it is ratified by the country’s parliament.

The agreement gives the U.S. jurisdiction over crimes committed by its military personnel but allows Lithuania as the host nation to take over jurisdiction in cases of particular importance to it. The document also gives the U.S. the right to use certain military facilities, although these facilities remain in the ownership of Lithuania.

A company-sized U.S. unit has been stationed in Lithuania since in 2014 and a battalion from the U.S. brigade that is being deployed to Poland is expected to frequently come to Lithuania for training.