The United States plans to abolish long-standing visa requirements for the Czech Republic on November 17. The plans were announced during a visit by the US Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff to the Czech Republic on Monday. Following Mr Chertoff’s meeting with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, Mr Topolánek announced that the news represented a “big day” for him – visa requirements have long been a sore point of US-Czech relations. Under the new system, which will fully come into effect in January 2009, travellers to the US will have to register online at what is known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA system. Critics of the system argue that it is a de-facto visa requirement in that approval to travel must be gained several days before, although no fee is currently charged as is the case with US visas. That said, Czechs may have to pay several hundred crowns, according to Czech media sources.
On November 17, Czech citizens will be able to travel to the United States without visas for the first time ever. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced in Prague on Monday that the Czech Republic, along with several other central and eastern European countries, has been included in the US Visa Waiver Program.
US President George W. Bush and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek are scheduled to meet in Washington on October 29 to discuss the world financial crisis, anti-missile defence system and Europe’s energy security, the White House announced on Tuesday. The spokeswoman for the White House Dana Perino said both nations were interested in “promoting freedom in repressive societies, supporting security and development in Iraq and Afghanistan, advancing European energy security and countering new ballistic missile threats to Europe and the US from the Middle East.”
US President George W Bush has named seven countries, including the Czech Republic, as having met the criteria for being added to the United States’ visa waiver programme. Others include the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Also on the list: the Czech Republic’s neighbour, Slovakia. Mr Bush said on Friday other countries were also on the path towards visa waiver. The United States requires that countries seeking inclusion in the programme issue tamper-proof biometric passports. Countries are also required to see only a low number of US visa applications rejected annually.
Two thirds of Czechs believe that their savings are safe in spite of the current economic crisis, suggests a poll conducted by the SC&C agency for Mladá fronta Dnes. Analyst Markéta Šichtařová told the paper that Czechs invest less in shares than American savers, and put their money into property instead. She called this strategy sound in the current climate. One half of those polled said that they didn’t think it was necessary to react to the crisis in any particular way, but instead just wait until it blew over. A quarter of respondents said that they didn’t know what they could do to change the current situation.
The Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek is to visit the United States at the end of this month, it was announced on Wednesday. According to the newspaper Hospodářské noviny’s website, Mr Topolánek is to meet outgoing president George W. Bush during his visit to Washington. This will be the prime minister’s second official visit to the United States this year. America’s decision to abolish visas for Czechs, and US plans to build a radar base on Czech soil, are set to be top of the agenda. It is thought that Mr Topolánek will fly to the States on the evening of October 28, after celebrating the Czech Republic’s most important national holiday – the anniversary of the birth of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918.
In almost exactly a month’s time, US voters go to the polls in one of the most keenly watched presidential elections in decades. There are an estimated six million Americans living outside the US and – with the two main candidates very close in the polls – their votes could well have an impact on November 4th. To get a flavour of how things look to US voters in this part of the world, I met up with Roger Johnson, chairman of Republicans Abroad in the Czech Republic, and Creag Hayes, chairman of Democrats Abroad in the Czech Republic.
In less than one month, the Czech Republic will mark an historic anniversary: 90 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia. To commemorate this day, the Czech Senate has put the original of the Pittsburgh Agreement, a document that created the basis for the new state, on display. On Monday, the US ambassadors to the Czech Republic and Slovakia presented the document to the head of the Czech Senate, Přemysl Sobotka. Ruth Fraňková has the details.
The Czech counter-intelligence service has said Russian spies are trying to stir up public opposition to a planned U.S. radar base to be built on Czech soil. In its annual report, the agency claimed Russian intelligence activity in the Czech Republic had reached fever pitch, and suggested the wider aim could be to weaken NATO and isolate the United States.
The full text of the Czech-American Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) has been released on the Czech Defence Ministry’s website. The wording of the bilateral agreement was kept secret during negotiations, which spanned the last 16 months. The treaty was signed by Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates at a NATO summit in London last week. The Czech Defence Ministry said afterwards that it was happy with the final wording of the agreement. The SOFA treaty only covers troops stationed at a planned US radar base in Brdy, Central Bohemia, and not all US troops residing on Czech soil. Furthermore, the Czech Republic retains full sovereignty over and ownership rights to the area, a spokesperson for the Defence Ministry said.
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