HAMBURG Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser said he was "quite encouraged" that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump would maintain a strong U.S. commitment to European security despite comments that had sparked concern during the election campaign.
Mikser said he was still waiting to see whom Trump would nominate as secretary of state, but said recent remarks by Trump and his transition team had helped assuage concerns raised when the Republican candidate said he would consider a country's contributions to the NATO alliance before coming to its defence.
"We don't have a complete picture yet, but ... I'm quite encouraged by the tone that the incoming administration has taken since the election," Mikser told Reuters in an interview during a meeting in Hamburg of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"There will be continuity when it comes to the U.S. commitment to its alliances," he said, adding that there could be more significant changes in U.S. trade and climate policy than in defence. "I haven't seen or heard anything that would suggest that there's going to be a radical departure."
Trump's comments had unnerved many in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, where Russian military involvement in Ukraine and Georgia has stoked fears that their former Soviet master might eventually try to intervene in the Baltic area.
Moscow says such fears are unfounded and based on anti-Russian sentiment.
Mikser said it was critical for NATO members to make good on their pledges to boost defence spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product, a target Estonia already meets, and said his country remained concerned about Russian military exercises and actions.
"We have to put our money where our mouth is. Everyone should do their part," Mikser said, adding that NATO's plans to deploy 4,000 ground troops next year to the region next year to deter Russia remained on track.
Top British and NATO officials have spoken with Trump about the alliance and his commitment to European security, and said they do not expect any significant changes.
Mikser said he was sceptical about Trump's pledge to reset ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that previous leaders, including former President George W. Bush, had entertained similar hopes.
"We've seen those attempts to charm Russia into behaving better before, but they haven't led anywhere. I really cannot see any reason for any great optimism," he said, citing continued military manoeuvres and snap exercises across the region, as well as a wide array of disinformation campaigns.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Toby Chopra)