Czech PM says meeting with President Trump is a “restart” in bilateral relations

The eyes of the Czech Republic today are on the White House where Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is due to hold talks with US President Donald Trump. It is the first visit by a Czech head of government in eight years and the meeting is viewed as a sign of revitalization in Czech-US relations.

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Roman VondroušAndrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has a packed agenda in Washington, but news coverage of the visit has been building up to his one-on-one meeting with President Donald Trump. This is what the Czech prime minister had to say ahead of the talks.

“I see it as a restart in Czech-American relations. It has been a long time since a Czech prime minister or president was invited for talks to the White House and there is much to discuss. We are allies in NATO and the United States is a huge economy. I think the most important thing is for us is to establish a good personal relationship – that is always of crucial importance in business as in politics.”

Commentators have noted that there may be a good chance of that happening, since the two men have plenty in common; both were successful business tycoons before entering politics and both were elected on a wave of anti-establishment sentiments in their countries.

Donald Trump, photo: ČTK/AP/Jacquelyn MartinDonald Trump, photo: ČTK/AP/Jacquelyn Martin The hour-long meeting at the White House is expected to focus on cyber-security, where both countries have similar stands on the Chinese company Huawei, cooperation in defense, the situation in Syria where the Czech Republic represents the US, since it is the only country to have kept open its embassy in Syria, Afghanistan, where the two countries have troops, nuclear energy issues in connection with the planned expansion and modernization of Czech nuclear power plants and trade cooperation between the EU and the United States which is threatened by the possibility of the US imposing trade tariffs on European cars.

The threat of a trade war between the EU and US was also at the center of debate when Prime Minister Babiš visited the US Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday to meet with US firms active in the Czech Republic and those interested in starting a business here. The prime minister briefed them on his government’s priorities in the field of science, research and innovation and later noted that he was glad to hear that the US Chamber of Commerce was not in favour of imposing tariffs of European car exporters.

Andrej Babiš at the University of Maryland, photo: ČTK/Roman VondroušAndrej Babiš at the University of Maryland, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš Although virtually no information was released on the prime minister’s visit to CIA headquarters and his meeting with its head Gina Haspel, the very fact that it took place has received plenty of attention in the Czech Republic. Prime Minister Babiš is the first Czech head of government ever to visit CIA headquarters and commentators are ascribing it to the good work of the country’s intelligence service BIS which has warned of intensified activities on the part of Chinese and Russian agents in the Czech Republic. Indeed, it is the international situation, and the interests of Russia and China in increasing their influence in Central and Eastern Europe that is seen as one of the reasons why the US has moved to revitalize ties with countries in the region.

The Czech prime minister on Wednesday also met with academics at the University of Maryland where he discussed cooperation in the field of artificial intelligence and the possibility of creating an AI centre in Prague.

At the close of the US visit the Czech prime minister will lay flowers at the Washington statue of Czechoslovakia’s founding father and first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, whose birthday anniversary is also being marked in the Czech Republic.