This week was without question an important one for US-Czech relations. The reason? On Wednesday both houses of the US Congress agreed on changing US legislation to allow potential exceptions within the country's visa waiver programme. Under the proposed changes, it is thought Czechs could begin travelling visa-free to the US in two years time. Initial reports were even more optimistic, citing a one year timeframe. But there the Czech Foreign Ministry has expressed caution, saying such a timetable was probably unrealistic.
The Foreign Ministry has indicated that earlier reports that the Czech
Republic might be eligible for the United States' visa waiver programme in
one year's time were too optimistic, estimating that such a move would
realistically take about two years. The ministry nevertheless noted
progress on the issue of visa waiver in the US this week. Both houses of
the US Congress on Wednesday discussed visa-free conditions, and
unofficial reports have suggested legislation changes agreed could see
exceptions made for countries not meeting a current 3 percent threshold.
Under the waiver programme, rejected US visa applications per country must
not exceed 3 percent over three years.
But under proposed changes, countries not breaching a ten percent threshold over one year could potentially be eligible. The Czech Republic, for example, sees around nine percent of its applications for US visas rejected annually.
Czech Defence Minister Martin Bartak told journalists on Wednesday that the government had approved an agreement with the United States on the destruction of aging Czech anti-aircraft missile systems. According to Mr Bartak, the Americans will pay around 600,000 dollars to the Czech Republic for the destruction of outdated Soviet-made missiles and launching pads. The US government fears that if the missiles are not destroyed they could be sold to third parties, which could increase the risk that some might end up in the hands of terrorists.
George Bush has been all over the media in the Czech Republic since he arrived on Monday evening. However, many ordinary Czechs are perhaps talking less about his visit and more about a bizarre gift Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova was planning to give the US president - a CD supporting a planned US radar base on which the minister herself sings backing vocals.
The sounds of the American anthem welcomed US President George W. Bush to Prague Castle on Tuesday for talks with his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, as well as with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. The talks were the first stop of Mr Bush's European visit, which includes, first and foremost, attending the G8 Summit in Germany, where Mr Bush will head on Tuesday evening. Mr Bush's stop-off in Prague, though brief, was not unimportant: he was in the Czech capital to discuss a number of issues, among them a US request to station part of its
On the eve of George W. Bush's visit to Prague, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the US President should leave the Czech Republic with the knowledge that the Czech Republic is an ally of the United States, yet will not allow anyone to dictate anything to it. Speaking in a televised debate on Sunday, Mr Topolanek said that during the Tuesday talks with Mr Bush, he would not link the issue of the US request to station a radar base, part of its anti-missile shield, in the Czech Republic with US visa requirements for Czech citizens.
Around 1,500 police officers will be mobilised for the US president's
visit, according to police headquarters. On Tuesday, major roads in the
surrounding Prague Castle, a popular tourist spot, will be closed with
public transport disrupted. Traffic in and out of Prague airport will also
be disrupted for half an hour on Monday evening and on Tuesday afternoon
during Air Force One's arrival and departure.
According to recent polls, two-thirds of Czechs are opposed to hosting a US radar base, but, so far, there have been no major demonstrations. During his short visit ahead of the G8 summit in Germany, President Bush is due to meet with Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek at Prague Castle.
Around a dozen demonstrations against a visit by US President George W. Bush will take place in Prague on Monday and Tuesday, with several of them protesting US plans to extend an anti-missile shield into Central and Eastern Europe. The Prague City Hall says it has been notified of seven anti-Bush demonstrations on Monday and another three on Tuesday. The 'No to Bases' movement says it expects several thousand protesters at its demonstration on Monday outside Prague Castle against US plans to station a tracking radar in the Czech Republic. Young communists are due to demonstrate outside the US embassy also on Monday. On Tuesday, another protest will be staged near the proposed radar site, 70 kilometres south-west of Prague. Municipal officials said one event staged in favour of the radar installation had also been scheduled.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed on Thursday that the Czech Republic - together with Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary as well as the Baltic states - has addressed members of the US Congress in a letter presenting a joint-stance towards possible changes to the US visa waiver programme. The spokesman said that the initiative was aiming to secure the best possible negotiating conditions regarding possible visa-free relations. The countries that signed the letter established the so-called Coalition for Visa Equality last year. Earlier US representatives indicated that the visa waiver programme could be broadened at the end of US President George W. Bush's final term in office.
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.
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