WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) returned Sunday from an official overseas trip to Belgium, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, and France with members of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
During the trip, Sen. Kennedy met with the heads of state, including presidents and defense ministers, in several countries to emphasize the importance of all members of NATO committing to an adequate level of defense spending given the global terrorism climate and heightened tensions with Russia and North Korea. He also used the trip as an opportunity to promote Louisiana as an economic development leader.
“Louisiana is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. In addition to being a leader in oil and natural gas production, our state produces high-quality agriculture and manufactured products. As such, during this trip I focused specifically on selling Louisiana and our products to the countries that we visited,” said Sen. Kennedy. “It's more important than ever to maintain strong economic ties with our allies overseas; that's why part of our mission for the trip was to discuss trade with the various heads of state with whom we met.”
Sen. Kennedy met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuanian Minister of Defense Raimundas Karoblis, Speaker of the Seimas Viktoras Pranckietis, Estonian Minister of Defense Margus Tsahkna, Republic of Finland President Sauli Niinisto, Finnish Minister of Defense Jussi Niinisto and Finnish Speaker of Parliament Maria Lohela as well as NATO officials during the seven-day trip. The visit followed President Trump's meeting in Belgium with members of NATO.
“The fight against terrorism is a collective fight. The September 11 attacks awakened us to the monsters we are facing, and incidents like the bombing in Manchester and the attack in London shows that the monsters continue to seep into our communities,” said Sen. Kennedy. “The U.S. is a tremendous supporter of NATO, but the members of NATO need to do their part by committing to robust spending on defense.”
Senator Kennedy and the Congressional delegation in Estonia meeting with Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, Defense Minister Hannes Hanso, and members of the United States military stationed in Estonia
Sen. Kennedy – along with Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pension Committee; Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; and Reps. Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), the House Minority Whip; and Dr. Phil Roe, (R-Tenn.), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs – asked leaders to comply with the 2014 Wales Summit Declaration. This declaration encouraged NATO members to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. Many NATO members are failing to meet this threshold and are years away from achieving the 2%.
“This was a productive trip as we were able to have serious conversations with presidents and defense ministers about the need to enhance defense spending,” said Sen. Kennedy. “Defense spending by NATO members totals $918 billion, and the U.S. is paying $664 billion of that. That's completely unfair to American taxpayers and families. As a delegation, we stressed President Trump's message that it is of the utmost importance that members of NATO pay their fair share as we continue our fight against global, radical terrorism.”
The delegation began the trip in Brussels with a meeting at the NATO headquarters. The next stop was in Lithuania and Estonia, where the delegation met top officials, including the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall and Estonian Parliamentarians. More meetings with high-level leaders followed in Finland and France.