Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has left for an official visit to the
US. On Thursday the Czech prime minister is due to hold talks with
President Trump at the White House.
According to the Czech Office of the Government the meeting should cover cyber-security, the international situation, and maintaining barrier-free trade between the US and Europe. The prime minister is also due to visit the CIA headquarters.
Andrej Babiš is the first Czech prime minister in eight years to be invited for talks to the White House.
Prime Minister Babiš also wants to make use of the opportunity to further bilateral cooperation in the fields of science and research.
On Wednesday he is scheduled to hold meetings with representatives of American universities and research institutions.
Donald Trump has made headlines this week by calling on America’s NATO allies to increase their defence spending. His words have met with a mixed response here in the Czech Republic, with some acceptance that armaments purchases must be stepped up – but questions surrounding the speed and focus of such spending.
The United States have re-sold old weapons from central and Eastern Europe to Syria, despite guaranteeing to be the end user, the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism reported on Wednesday. Some of the weapons were reportedly purchased in the Czech Republic. According to the Czech journalists, who cooperated with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, such a procedure would be a breach of the arms trade agreement. The report, which cites publicly available documents, claims that the American Defence Ministry bought assault rifles, mortar shells and other military technique worth 500 billion crowns and subsequently re-sold them to Syrian rebels fighting ISIS.
A convoy of American soldiers are passing through the Czech Republic from Monday to Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Czech Army said. The US troops are based in Germany and are on their way to training exercises in other countries. Around 400 soldiers will travel through Czech territory in 120 vehicles in two separate waves. More such movements – involving 1,600 troops in total – are taking place later this month and at the start of July.
Several convoys of US soldiers are due to cross the Czech Republic in June and July, the spokesman for the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, Jan Šulc, told the Czech News Agency on Tuesday. Altogether 1,600 soldiers and 460 military vehicles will be crossing the country on their way from Germany to Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria to take part in a NATO military exercise.
The Czech minister of defence, Martin Stropnický, is set to hold talks with his US counterpart, James Mattis, at the Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday. Mr. Stropnický said his meeting with the secretary of defense would take in the security situation, the Czech military budget and the modernisation of the Czech Army. Also on the agenda may be Czech plans to purchase military helicopters, with US firm Bell one of those in the running for the deal, the Czech News Agency reported. Mr. Stropnický had originally been due to travel to the US with Czech President Miloš Zeman but the US side postponed a meeting between him and Donald Trump originally reported as planned for the turn of April and May.
Czech President Miloš Zeman reserved judgement on Friday on a US missile strike targeting an airbase in Syria until more is known about a suspected chemical attack on Tuesday by the Assad regime on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in which more than 80 people, including children, died. The BBC reported that hundreds had suffered symptoms consistent with reaction to a nerve agent. President Zeman called for an investigation by an independent UN Security Council committee, saying it needed to be determined whether the Syrian Air Force had indeed resorted to the crime of using chemical weapons. He suggested that a failure to comply with an investigation was tantamount to an admission of guilt.
Czech politicians reacted to Thursday’s surprise cruise missile strike by the US on a Syrian airbase: Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on Twitter expressed the hope that the strike, which used 59 cruise missiles, would prevent further chemical attacks by the Assad regime. The airbase struck is thought to have been used by Assad forces earlier this week in a gruesome chemical attack which killed at least 74 people, including children. Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnický said the US strike ordered by President Donald Trump was adequate given the nature of the Assad regime’s attack on civilians. The US airstrike was supported by Great Britain, France, and Israel and condemned by Russia. On the Czech political scene, the strike was condemned by the Communist Party.