The government has sought to clarify its position on the war against Iraq, in the light of conflicting statements from senior Czech officials. Following a meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the Czech Republic was not a member of the so-called "coalition of the willing", as claimed by the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The prime minister made the statement after a radio interview on Wednesday with the Czech foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, who said the Czech Republic was "on the side of" the U.S. coalition because it was a coalition of democratic countries.
Prime Minister Spidla clarified the exact mandate of the Czech anti-chemical unit currently stationed alongside U.S. troops in Kuwait. He said the unit would not join an offensive against Iraq and would only provide humanitarian assistance if Iraq used weapons of mass destruction. Mr Spidla said the 350-strong unit - which specialises in detecting nuclear, biological and chemical weapons - would only intervene to save lives in Kuwait or neighbouring countries. The Defence Ministry has said none of the soldiers were injured in Thursday's Iraqi rocket attack on Kuwait.
A widespread security operation is in force in the country following the outbreak of hostilities in the Gulf. Heightened security is in place at airports, nuclear power stations, chemical plants, water treatment facilities as well as embassies and government offices, amid concerns that terrorist groups may launch an attack against the country. The authorities have said there is no concrete threat, but believe the heightened security is justified. On Wednesday the Czech Republic expelled four Iraqi diplomats, a move officials said was designed to prevent possible secret intelligence-gathering.
The Czech government has said that in the event of war with Iraq the Czech Republic would support the US led alliance against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Following Wednesday's cabinet session Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that war was "a last resort" in forcing Saddam Hussein to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. "The government regrets that it was not possible to get a UN mandate for action," Mr. Svoboda said. Czech President Vaclav Klaus said he fully agrees with the government's stand. The Czech Republic is prepared to send humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people and take an active part in the post-war reconstruction of the country.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has cancelled a working visit to Slovakia in connection with the Iraqi crisis. The Prime Minister was to have met with the heads of government of Slovakia, Hungary and Poland to debate the international situation. According to a government spokesperson Thursday's Visegrad Group meeting in Bratislava will be attended by Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda.
The commander of the joint Czech-Slovak anti-chemical unit based in Kuwait, Dusan Lupuljev, said on Tuesday that his soldiers were in very good condition, both mentally and morally. The joint unit is ready to go into action within half an hour if weapons of mass destruction are used in Kuwait, and within two hours anywhere in the region, the commander said. Earlier this year the Czech military presence in the Persian Gulf was reinforced following a United States request for assistance in a possible war against Iraq.
Vaclav Klaus has discussed the looming war with Iraq with his Slovak counterpart, Rudolf Schuster, on what is the Czech president's first official foreign visit since being appointed earlier this month. Mr Klaus said he stood by the Czech parliament's January resolution that it would only join the United States-led war if it was approved by the United Nations, or if Iraq used weapons of mass destruction. While in Bratislava, President Klaus also held talks with the Slovak prime minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, and parliamentary chairman, Pavol Hrusovsky.