"Very friendly" meeting at White House seen as success for President Klaus


The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, held his first meeting with US President George Bush at the White House on Tuesday. The visit, announced just one day in advance, is being seen as a real success for Mr Klaus, who was in Washington's bad books for some time over his stance on the Iraq war. Iraq was just one of many issues discussed by the two presidents, in what Mr Klaus described as "very friendly" talks.

Czech president Vaclav Klaus with US President George Bush, photo: CTKCzech president Vaclav Klaus with US President George Bush, photo: CTK "I think that relations between the Czech Republic and the United States are very, very positive, and this meeting was just a confirmation of that," said Vaclav Klaus, speaking as snow fell on the White House lawn on Tuesday. It had taken the Czech president a full two years to get there, after he angered Washington by questioning the war against Iraq.

Mr Klaus, describing relations between himself and the US president as friendly and pleasant, played down that dispute, which he described as definitely over and done with. He also said the whole thing had been very much "demonizovano" (demonised).

But Iraq was one of the main issues discussed by the two men, with George Bush keen to hear that the Czech Republic, unlike some European countries, was not planning to change its policy and withdraw its troops. The Czech president reassured him on this point, saying Czech soldiers would continue to train Iraqi police officers.

Iran, Syria and security in the Middle East were also on the agenda during Tuesday's talks. But one subject which would perhaps have been of more interest to many in the Czech Republic - if and when Washington will drop visa requirements for Czechs travelling to the US - did not come up.

Vaclav Klaus promotes his book 'On the Road to Democracy', photo: CTKVaclav Klaus promotes his book 'On the Road to Democracy', photo: CTK Two weeks ago when Messrs Klaus and Bush met in Brussels, the former surprised many by saying the US president had asked about the political crisis in the Czech Republic, where the government has been shaken by a financial scandal.

Again on Tuesday George Bush raised the matter, and was curious to know why Vaclav Klaus didn't just call early elections. Mr Klaus explained that the Czech constitution precluded such a move.

Vaclav Klaus's meeting at the Oval Office was described as a "working visit", coming as it did during a tour to promote his book "On the Road to Democracy". But even though it was not on the level of official state visit, it is being seen as a real triumph for the Czech president. One newspaper, Mlada fronta Dnes, described it as his "greatest diplomatic success".

Mr Klaus pointed out to that daily that the meeting had lasted "almost 40 minutes" though it had only been scheduled to last half an hour, which would seem to indicate how much meeting Mr Bush at the White House meant to him personally.