Spidla to discuss Iraq reconstruction, fighter jets on US trip


The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has left for a weeklong visit to the United States. He is expected to hold talks with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The topics on the table will be mainly Czech-US economic ties, including the participation of Czech companies in the renewal of Iraq. The Prime Minister is accompanied by Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Trade and Industry Minister Milan Urban and Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka and a delegation of Czech businessmen.

This is Mr Spidla's first official trip to the US as Prime Minister, and observers say he is going to receive a pat on the back from US officials for the Czech Republic's assistance in the war in Iraq. Just a reminder; the Czech Republic sent an anti-chemical unit to Kuwait to protect the allies' troops and civilian population there and a Czech military field hospital is still operating in the city of Basra.

On Monday, Prime Minister Spidla and Trade and Industry Minister Urban will meet representatives of Bechtel, the company appointed with the management of the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure, but there are doubts that the Czech Republic will get a chance to take part in the renewal of the country as there are many bidders with a stronger capital backing than the Czech Republic can provide.

Prime Minister Spidla's delegation is also expected to face some strong lobbying to buy fighter jets for the Air Force from two US manufacturers, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. According to speculation, President Bush might propose to Mr Spidla an attractive leasing offer. If the Czech Republic accepts the offer, in 2008 the Czech Air Force might buy brand new supersonic jets from the US companies. However, Prime Minister Spidla maintains that there will be a proper tender for the fighter jets and the contract will be awarded to the best bidder.

At the end of the week, Prime Minister Spidal is expected to meet representatives of the Czech community in Houston, Texas. From Houston, Mr Spidla will travel to Miami, Florida to meet former Cuban political prisoners and leaders of the Cuban exile community and he will also give an interview to Television Marti, the American telecast to Cuba. And of course, a passionate jogger, Prime Minister Spidla says he will find time for several hour-long runs in his busy US schedule.