Early in June US President George W. Bush will visit the Czech Republic. The American Head of State will be meeting with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus and other senior politicians. Washington's visa policy and its plans to build a radar station on Czech soil are topics expected to be discussed the most. To get the US position on both issues ahead of Mr Bush's visit, our colleague Daniel Raus from Czech Radio 6 met with the US Ambassador to Prague Richard Graber.
This time two weeks US President George Bush will be here in Prague to attend a conference on democracy and security. The American leader will also discuss the planned building of a US radar base in central Bohemia with senior Czech politicians, during a visit that is expected to last a day and a half. A number of anti-Bush protests have already been announced, and we can expect the kind of security operation rarely seen in the Czech capital.
Madeleine Albright, the Prague-born former United States secretary of state, is celebrating her 70th birthday. Born Marie Jana Korbelova on May 15 1937, she was forced to flee her native country twice, first from the Nazis, then from the Communists. Her career reached a peak in 1997, when she became the first woman in history to head the US State Department.
Marsha Kocabova is a former modern ballet dancer from North Carolina who almost overnight ended up at the side of a prominent dissident in communist Czechoslovakia. Her husband Michael Kocab was the frontman of the popular 1980s underground rock group Prazsky Vyber, which was banned by the Communists; her daughter Natalie is now one of the country's most successful young up-and-coming writers and singers.
Meanwhile, left-wing supporters filled Prague's Vystaviste exhibition grounds on Tuesday where the opposition Social Democrats and the Communist Party hosted separate Labor Day rallies. Traditionally both are highly politicized and this year's Communist Party rally was moreover organized as a protest against the deployment of a US radar base on Czech territory. The CTK news agency reports that there was a brief skirmish between communist party supporters and anti-communist activists, but no serious injuries were reported.
The planned stationing of a US radar base in the Czech Republic and the
abolition of U.S. visas for Czechs will be the main topics of Foreign
Minister Karel Schwarzenberg's upcoming visit to the United States.
Foreign Minster Schwarzenberg leaves for the US on Wednesday for four
days of talks with US top officials. The Czech Republic recently
complied with a US request to start talks on the possible stationing of
a radar base on its territory. The base would be part of a US missile
defense shield stationed jointly in the Czech Republic and Poland. No
commitment has as yet been made and the talks are expected to last
until the end of the year. The Czech political scene is divided on the
issue and opinion polls suggest that the public is against it.
Critics say the US missile defense shield will not meet Europe's defense needs and Russia views the US missile base as a threat to its security. Washington has promised Moscow "detailed discussions" about the plan.
In related news, a Communist MP, Alexandr Cerny, is one of two Czech parliamentarians who have been refused a visa by the US Embassy in Prague for a planned trip by legislators to view the United States' missile defence radar system on the Marshall Islands. The head of the Communist Party Vojtech Filip has said he has sent a written complaint to US Ambassador Richard Graber. But the US Embassy in Prague responded to the news on Friday with an official statement explaining that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs had agreed to provide a final list of participants in time for processing, but that two legislators' names were put forward 24 hours late. Both are from different political parties. In its statement the US Embassy stressed that the processing of US diplomatic visas was "uniform" regardless of "country, nationality, or party affiliation".
The Czech Republic wants the United States to provide stronger security
guarantees and military cooperation in exchange for hosting part of its
missile defence shield, a note sent to the U.S. government said. The
diplomatic note, approved by the Czech government last week and seen by
the Reuters news agency on Wednesday, agrees to start talks with the
Americans over the shield. The United States wants to deploy a radar
system in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland by
2011-12. The note said the Czechs were aware of new threats to their
security, mainly international terrorism, and expected that the United
States would share information on those threats.
Washington says the missile shield system would counter threats from what it calls "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea.
The Czech Republic and several other former communist states should
keep pushing for visa-free travel to the United States until they have
it "in black and white", the Czech foreign minister, Karel
Schwarzenberg, said in Germany's Bremen on Saturday. Mr Schwarzenberg
organised a discussion with colleagues from Slovenia, Poland, Hungary,
Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on the sidelines of a meeting of European
Union foreign ministers in the city. Afterwards the eastern European
foreign ministers issued a statement praising the steps taken so far by
Washington to broaden its visa-waiver programme.
Meanwhile, Canada is this month to begin considering whether to allow Czechs visa-free entrance, according to Prague's Canadian Embassy. A spokesperson said Canada would weigh a number of factors, including number of rejected visa applications, security in the Czech Republic and the country's observance of human rights.
President Vaclav Klaus has launched another fierce attack on the green lobby, claiming that "ambitious environmentalism" poses a greater threat to society than communism. His comments came in written answers to a committee meeting being held on Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Czech president said instead of trying to stop climate change, mankind should learn to live with it. Rob Cameron spoke to the head of the Czech branch of Greenpeace, Jiri Tutter, and asked him if he was surprised at Mr Klaus's comments.
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