BRUSSELS, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Three or four more European Union states will sign visa agreement with the United States next week, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said here on Sunday.
"We have three or four other countries that are going to be signing this coming week," Chertoff said at the Brussels Forum conference.
"I envision that we will have a number of countries that will be stepping forward to become eligible," he noted, without giving the names of the nations.
Currently, only 15 EU member states enjoy the U.S. visa waiver. Citizens from Greece and 11 of the 12 newest states -- Slovenia is the exception -- are obliged to have visas, even for a short stay, when they travel to America.
Top justice officials from the EU and the United States discussed Thursday in Brdo, Slovenia, the issue of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which the EU hopes will allow all EU citizens to travel to America without a visa as soon as possible.
Washington's decision to conduct bilateral negotiations on the issue with individual EU member states, including the elements that are exclusively within the competence of the EU, was a matter of collective concern for the bloc.
The EU's executive, the European Commission, has performed an analysis of competence, prepared a proposal for a mandate for talks with the United States and submitted it to the EU Council for adoption.
The Czech Republic signed individually last month in Washington a "memorandum of understanding" on flight security as it could not wait for the slow pace of EU-U.S. negotiations to enter the U.S. visa waiver program.
Estonia and Latvia followed suit by signing similar agreements last week with Washington.
Reports said Hungary and Lithuania would sign such a deal on Monday.
The deals are part of the process of joining the U.S. visa waiver program, but do not guarantee entrance for the signatories.
Chertoff said U.S. authorities still had technical preparations to conclude before more countries could be invited in, and those wanting to join also had to meet other requirements, notably on visa over-stay rates.
"I believe it's quite possible we could have our first new visa waiver travelers entering the United States before the end of this calendar year," he said.
"We are more than happy to work with individual countries to give them specific guidance about what they need to do to get better positioned," said Chertoff.
But the EU was not happy at the individual agreements as they would have weakened the bargaining power of the commission, which has jurisdiction for visa reciprocity with third countries.