The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karel Schwarzenberg, is wrapping up a brief, official visit to the United States where he met with his American counterpart Hillary Clinton. Czech Radio’s US correspondent Vít Pohanka is in Washington and spoke with both officials before and after the meeting.
“This was not really a meeting where we expected any kind of announcement of some major bilateral initiative; this was a standard meeting to keep the mutual dialogue going after such big issues as was the visa requirement for Czech citizens travelling to the US was dropped nearly two years ago, and of course after the Obama administration dropped the plan to build an anti-missile radar in the Czech Republic. I would say it was a working meeting, I mean, it didn’t seem to be just a formality, but a standard working meeting between two ministers of foreign affairs of two countries.”
Karel Schwarzenberg announced a wide range of issues that he wanted to discuss with Hillary Clinton – US relations with NATO and Russia, the exporting of Czech combat jets, Czech troops in Afghanistan (which was a key talking point because that was approved by the government today), the selection of an ambassador to Prague... So what points did they actually get to?
“Minister Schwarzenberg spelled out a long list and he just confirmed that he mentioned all of the things you said. You are absolutely right that the Czech government agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan, Karel Schwarzenberg mentioned that and he told us afterwards that Hillary Clinton had expressed her gratitude to the Czech Republic for that. I suppose that’s to be expected but, you know, it certainly helps with bilateral relations with the Czech Republic, especially at this time when the Americans are trying to get all of the allies in NATO to strengthen their military presence in Afghanistan. So that was definitely a factor that I think helped Karel Schwarzenberg to make the points he wanted to make.”
How did they seem to get along together from your standpoint?
“They do seem to get along really well, and I think it goes beyond the kind of usual diplomatic niceties, because they’ve known each other since the 90s when Hillary Clinton came to Prague with then-president Bill Clinton, so she came as a first lady. And I know that they met personally when Karel Schwarzenberg came to the US with president Havel in the 90s as a chancellor. So there really seems to be genuine, good chemistry between the two of them and it definitely looked like that.”
The Czech Republic has been very interested in getting some American think tanks to move to the country and Minister Schwarzenberg has spent some of his time in the States visiting some of these think tanks. Do you have any indication of how his discussions with them went?
“Yes, not only from Karel Schwarzenberg but also from the Czech diplomats who have been working on this for some time here, because obviously it’s a longer process. But yes, specifically the Aspen Institute is interested in having a presence in the Czech Republic. But as, Karel Schwarzenberg says, it’s now up to the Czech side probably to provide a building to house the institute, because as he says, the 90s – the times when we could expect ‘gifts’ from the Americans or some kind of sponsorship – are gone. So it seems to be going ahead quite well, but organisational work connected with it will probably still take some time.”
Lastly, a rather scandalous revelation was suggested on Wednesday, when Czech Television reported that some State Department official had said that the US radar based that they planned to build in the Czech Republic and that was debated for years was actually only intended for protecting the United States, rather than having anything to do with protecting Europe. Do you have any insight into this or can you expand on it at all?
“Yes, I know where the information comes from, we were actually briefed by quite a senior State Department official before the meeting and we were told this information but I should say that it is quite early to say much more about it, because we haven’t really had the time to confirm it from some other sources. So right now, yes, it is really surprising, because we were told something really different from what we had been told by the previous administration, and that is that the missile shield was never intended to cover Europe. Nevertheless, it’s just one State Department official who told us that, and we haven’t really had the time to confirm it from some independent sources.”
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