Netanyahu visits Lithuania, first Israeli PM ever

August 23, 2018 - 7:59 am

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Lithuania Thursday for a four-day visit during which he will also meet his Latvian and Estonian counterparts, local officials and the Jewish community.

Netanyahu, making the first visit to Lithuania by an Israeli prime minister, was welcomed by Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.

"I was invited to a summit of Baltic states. ... This shows the rising standing of Israel in the world," Netanyahu said in remarks ahead of his trip, released by the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet for bilateral talks on Thursday evening before being joined by their counterparts — Estonia's Juri Ratas and Maris Kucinskis of Latvia — on Friday. Later that day, he will meet with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

Ahead of his departure for Vilnius, Netanyahu said the purpose of his visit was that he was "interested in balancing the European Union's not always friendly approach toward the state of Israel, so that we will receive fairer and truer treatment."

Lithuania has not followed Washington in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and supports Iran's nuclear deal despite Israeli and U.S. opposition.

"This visit is a very good chance to build further the strategic partnership both countries demonstrated an interest to develop," Marius Laurinavicius, a senior expert at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis told The Associated Press.

The Baltic nation of nearly 3 million was part of the Russian Empire before declaring its independence in 1918. Lithuania was then independent until 1940, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union. It regained its freedom in 1991 and joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

Netanyahu, who faces corruption allegations at home, has roots in Lithuania — his mother's parents lived in the central village of Seduva.

More than 90 percent of Lithuania's 240,000 Jews were killed during World War II. The role Lithuanian soldiers played in that is sensitive, as the country mainly views itself as a victim of Nazi and Soviet occupations.

During his visit, Netanyahu also will attend a memorial ceremony at the site near Vilnius where up to 100,000 people were killed by Nazi troops and their Lithuanian collaborators, meet relatives of Lithuanians who aided Jews during the war and visit synagogues.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to give the length of the visit as four days, not two.

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