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WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Obama hails Estonia success

By Julie Pace

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 3 2014 8:36 a.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 3 2014 8:36 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas speak to U.S. and Estonian service members in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

TALLINN, Estonia — President Barack Obama says he should have called on Estonia before last year's botched rollout of his administration's health care website.

At a news conference with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Obama hailed Estonia as one of the great success stories among nations that reclaimed their independence after the Cold War. He said the Eastern European nation had become "a model for how citizens can interact with their government in the 21st century."

Estonians, he noted, can use their smartphones "to get just about anything done online," from accessing their children's grades to health records.

"I should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our health care website," Obama cracked.

Despite months of build up by Obama, HealthCare.gov crashed on opening day last October, causing difficulty for millions of consumers who couldn't access the site to buy insurance required under Obama's new health care law. It took months of intense therapy to get the site to function properly.

Estonia is one of the most wired and technologically advanced countries in the world, coming second only to Iceland, according to the 2013 Freedom House internet freedom rankings. U.S.-based Freedom House conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights.

Obama's trip to Estonia and then to Wales for a NATO summit was to be the last trip aboard Air Force One for Ann Compton of ABC News.

Compton plans to retire next week after 41 years with the network, an impressive tenure that spanned seven presidencies beginning with Gerald Ford. She joined ABC in 1973 and earned pioneer status by becoming the first woman to cover the White House full time for a network news organization.

On the flight from Washington, Compton was feted with a champagne toast and chocolate cake in the press cabin in the rear of the aircraft. Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, and Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, also came back to visit with Compton.

She also was invited to the forward compartment to meet with Obama once the plane landed in Tallinn.

Compton was the first of two American journalists Obama took questions from at the news conference.

"I'm going to call on Ann Compton. Ann is on her farewell tour," he said.

Obama previously acknowledged Compton's pending retirement when he gave her the last question at a news conference at the White House last month, saying she "is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know."

"I was proud to be able to hug her grandbaby recently. And I suspect that may have something to do with her decision," he said. "But I just want to say publicly, 'Ann, we're going to miss you, and we're very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you've done, and we hope you're not a stranger around here.'"

Clear, cool weather greeted Obama in Estonia just as Washington fell into the grip of a last-days-of-summer heat wave.

He seemed pleased to have escaped. "It's wonderful to be here," Obama said, remarking on the weather as he sat down with Ilves in an ornate room inside the peach-colored Kadriorg Palace.

Upon arrival there, the presidents stood together as a military band play their countries' national anthems. They then walked along a red carpet as service members stood at attention.

Obama then visited with children waving Estonian and American flags, enthusiastically greeting several children and offering a high-five to one child.

After the ceremony, the leaders retired inside for an official handshake in front of their countries' flags.

Obama then sat down at a desk to sign the guestbook, taking about a minute to write his message.

"It's an honor to visit Estonia - a nation that shows what free peoples can achieve together. May we strengthen our friendship for future generations," he wrote before signing his name.

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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