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From Estonia, Obama Talks Tough On Islamic State And Russia


More developments in the Ukraine crisis today, on the eve of the NATO summit in Wales. France is suspending the delivery of warships it was building for the Russian Navy. The French had faced widespread criticism for the deal and now it says the sale is on hold because Russian actions in Ukraine threaten the security of Europe.


Meanwhile, President Obama spent the day in Estonia - he was there to reassure some of Russia's neighbors of American support. But he also had to face other grave topics, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The day broke with somber news confirming the video that shows American journalist Stephen Sotloff being killed by fighters from the Islamic State. At a news conference in Tallinn, President Obama said the United States will not be intimidated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.

SHAPIRO: The president is being criticized, even by some Democrats, for being too timid in Iraq and Syria. When reporters pressed Obama to clarify his strategy, the president said this is a long-term project that involves building alliances and strengthening local forces.


OBAMA: The United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the kind of barbaric and ultimately empty vision that ISIL represents. And that's going to take some time, but we're going to get it done.

SHAPIRO: But Obama did not come all the way to Estonia to talk about Iraq. On the eve of a NATO summit, the president wants to reassure allies in Eastern Europe that NATO won't let Russia bully them.

Estonia and other countries in the neighborhood see what's happening in Ukraine and fear they could be next. This afternoon Obama met with the leaders of all three Baltic states. President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania...


PRESIDENT DALIA GRYBAUSKAITE: Today Ukraine is fighting not only for its own freedom, but it's fighting instead of us - for us.

SHAPIRO: President Andris Berzins of Latvia...


PRESIDENT ANDRIS BERZINS: To stop further aggression (unintelligible). One voice is the key.


SHAPIRO: And today's host, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia.


PRESIDENT TOOMAS HENDRIK ILVES: There is no doubt that the security architecture here in Europe has changed in the past year and, alas, not for the better.

SHAPIRO: At a concert hall in the center of Tallinn, President Obama gave these leaders the assurance they're looking for.


OBAMA: Countries like Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania are not post-Soviet territory. You are sovereign and independent nations with the right to make your own decisions.

SHAPIRO: Obama addressed an audience of students, political leaders and civil society groups. He said the vision of a peaceful, free Europe that has taken shape since the Cold War is threatened by Russia's actions in Ukraine.


OBAMA: It is a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent European nation. It challenges that most basic of principles of our international system, that borders cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.

SHAPIRO: Ukraine is not part of the NATO military alliance. Estonia and other Baltic states are. That alliance rests on an agreement saying an attack on one member is an attack on all. President Obama insisted today that the U.S. is prepared to put its weight behind that guarantee.


OBAMA: So if in such a moment you ever ask again who will come to help, you will know the answer. The NATO Alliance, including the Armed Forces of the United States of America right here, present now.


SHAPIRO: So this reassurance to Estonia was also a warning to Russia - one that will be reinforced in the next two days as NATO leaders meet in Wales for their annual summit. Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, has been invited to Wales too, underscoring NATO's message that what happens in Ukraine directly impacts security in the rest of Europe. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Cardiff Wales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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