President Klaus receives surprise invitation to meet George Bush for first time


The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, is currently in the United States on a private visit. In a surprise move, a meeting between Mr Klaus and US President George Bush was announced at the very last moment. Though it may be scheduled to last only 30 minutes, Tuesday's meeting at the White House is far from insignificant for Vaclav Klaus - it is the first time he has been invited to meet the US president since being elected two years ago.

White HouseWhite House Not long after he was elected Czech president, Vaclav Klaus had a rather public falling out with then US ambassador to Prague, Craig Stapleton. Mr Stapleton, a friend of Mr Bush's, reportedly walked out of a meeting with Mr Klaus, when the latter questioned the justification for the war against Iraq.

Then in the summer of 2003 there were reports that George Bush had told former Czech president Vaclav Havel that he had "no interest" in meeting Mr Havel's successor.

President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTKPresident Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK Since that time there has been a lot of discussion about if and when Vaclav Klaus would be invited to Washington for an official visit. He still has not received such an invitation: Tuesday's meeting is being described as a "working visit", and comes during a private trip to America by the Czech president.

It is unusual for this kind of invitation to be extended during a private visit, and Tuesday's meeting was announced just one day in advance. There has been some speculation that it follows a faux pas by the White House press department, which mistook Mr Klaus for the president of Slovakia in a caption to a photo taken when President Bush visited Brussels recently. According to this version of events, the US secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice suggested the meeting as a way of making amends.

But it also takes place in the context of Mr Bush's recent efforts to improve relations with Europe. Vaclav Klaus admitted on television last week that his opposition to the war in Iraq had tempered relations between his office and the White House, but said that period was now in the past. Tuesday's meeting in Washington would seem to bear him out.