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How A Trump Administration Looks From Lithuania

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama set off for Europe yesterday, saying he was confident that President-elect Donald Trump values U.S. ties with NATO. Obama's assurances to Europeans on that score come after candidate Trump had raised doubts about U.S. commitments abroad. Trump had spoken of NATO as obsolete and questioned whether the U.S. is getting enough value out of its alliances.

These things matter a lot in the three Baltic republics formerly part of the Soviet Union now independent and part of NATO. Well, joining us now via Skype is the foreign minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevicius. And welcome to the program once again.

LINAS LINKEVICIUS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Back in July, NATO agreed to build up its positions in your part of the world, and now Vladimir Putin's spokesman says that Donald Trump could bring about a kind of detente in Europe if NATO would slow down its expansion near Russia's borders. Are you concerned that NATO may back down on its buildup in the Baltic republics and Poland?

LINKEVICIUS: We all would like to see improvement, less tensions. And any effort is commendable, so I do understand. But I also believe and hope that it will be done according to international law, not self-invented rules by Russia, what Russia usually likes to do.

We are concerned about the future. We don't know what will happen. But I believe it's premature to dramatize, premature to be disappointed. It's - really we have to give a chance to a new administration to start at least working and to appoint key officials.

And frankly these officials will not come out of the blue. They will be appointed from Republican team which will know quite well. And continuity for U.S. policy was always a feature - so many reasons to rely on our future cooperation, maybe some changes but not dramatic or revolutionary. I do not expect.

SIEGEL: You have mentioned, though, your concerns about this time of transition between U.S. administrations, the vacuum of leadership, in your words.

LINKEVICIUS: Yes.

SIEGEL: What are you concerned that Russia might try doing during that time of vacuum?

LINKEVICIUS: Unfortunately I'm afraid it will be done - Testing, also maybe intensifying some activities in Ukraine or - I'm afraid. I'm really - I'm afraid to pre-judge - but very, very dangerous situation with regard to Aleppo. So let's really take it very seriously.

SIEGEL: You've mentioned your confidence that the Republican foreign policy team that takes over will be people whom you are familiar with and people whose ideas you're familiar with. Do President Obama's assurances about Donald Trump - are they important to you? Do they satisfy you?

LINKEVICIUS: All signals are important. President Obama tries to calm down, so to say, and to not be afraid about substantial changes. I also remember my meetings with some associates very close to President Trump like Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York. And we had very good meeting some time ago and remember how enthusiastic he was about Baltic States, about our performance, about any security issues. I cannot expect that he changed his mind, for instance.

And we really have to engage each other to convince that what we are doing together - it's not at the expense of each other but for the sake of each other. That's very important.

SIEGEL: On the subject of spending, Trump raised questions during the campaign about whether NATO members are paying their fair share. NATO members are supposed to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

LINKEVICIUS: Sure.

SIEGEL: Last year Lithuania was at 1.1 percent. I think only five NATO members made it to the targeted level. Do you feel that the NATO guarantee has been in some way made conditional upon your country spending more?

LINKEVICIUS: I believe it's not about guarantees. I trust these guarantees, and this is working. But what we have to do and what we did recently will substantially improve this defense spending and owe close to 1.8. And by 2018, we will have reached 2 percent - no doubt about that.

This is really a kind of wakeup call, and we have to address this issue very seriously - all Europeans, not just us I believe. This is legitimate criticism from President Trump.

SIEGEL: Minister Linkevicius, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

LINKEVICIUS: Thank you, appreciate it.

SIEGEL: That's Linas Linkevicius, the foreign minister of Lithuania - was speaking to us from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.