The Czech Republic has signed a joint statement with five other new EU states expressing disappointment over new US legislation that was meant to loosen criteria for some countries being included in the US visa-waiver programme. The signatories made clear in their statement that from their perspective the US had not gone far enough. As it stands, of the six countries which include Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania, only the Czech Republic would likely meet current conditions for acceptance. The joint statement signed on Thursday said the US legislation retained "artificial barriers" for close US allies; the signatories made clear they would continue seeking changes.
The Bush administration's plans to build a radar station in the Czech Republic as part of its missile defence shield have never been far from the front pages, and today the story is back on the agenda. The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to cut funding for the proposed missile defence facilities by almost one half, prompting a sharp exchange of views in Prague on whether the system will ever see the light of day.
The Czech Foreign Ministry on Friday welcomed the signing of a US security bill by President George W Bush which could make it easier for Czechs to travel visa-free to the US. But the ministry also expressed reservations, saying expectations had not been met. The legislation has retained targets which could prove difficult to meet. Under the bill, countries hoping to satisfy US visa-waiver requirements must have visa refusal rates no higher than 3 - or in exceptional cases - no higher than 10 percent. In recent years, Czechs have had a rate of around 9 percent of their visa applications rejected annually. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova made clear on Friday that the refusal rate criteria was one reason why the Czech Republic, along with other countries such as Poland and Slovakia, would continue seeking further changes.
Jiri Sedivy has just been named NATO's Assistant Secretary General. The former Czech defence minister and current deputy minister of European affairs will be moving to Brussels this autumn - and will become the first Czech official to occupy such a high ranking position at NATO headquarters. I spoke to Jiri Sedivy earlier, and I asked him what his new job involved.
This week was without question an important one for US-Czech relations. The reason? On Wednesday both houses of the US Congress agreed on changing US legislation to allow potential exceptions within the country's visa waiver programme. Under the proposed changes, it is thought Czechs could begin travelling visa-free to the US in two years time. Initial reports were even more optimistic, citing a one year timeframe. But there the Czech Foreign Ministry has expressed caution, saying such a timetable was probably unrealistic.
For the first six months of 2009, the Czech Republic will be the second new EU member after Slovenia to hold the rotating presidency of the European Union. But that may not be the only prestigious function filled by the country in that period - Prague is also hoping to secure one of the non-permanent positions on the United Nations Security Council from 2008.
Czechs planning to travel around Europe next year will have one thing less to worry about - they will be able to leave their passports at home. The long awaited accession to the Schengen Agreement, which guarantees the citizens of all member countries unrestricted travel, will happen in the first moments of New Year's Day 2008.
As this programme was being recorded the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor held in Libya were still waiting to hear whether their death sentences would be commuted. However among the feverish speculation that a compromise has been reached, reports have emerged that four European countries - including the Czech Republic - were playing a leading role in facilitating the deal.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus is expected in Warsaw, Poland on Tuesday where he will meet with his Polish counterpart Lech Kaczynski and leading government officials. Talks are expected to focus on bilateral relations, European matters and the US plan to deploy part of its missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. The Czech President will also be awarded Poland's highest state distinction - the Order of the White Eagle.
An ongoing dispute over whether the communist hammer and sickle symbols belong on a wartime memorial to Russian soldiers who died during the liberation of Brno at the end of the Second World War has stumped Czech officials, divided the inhabitants of Brno and elicited an official protest from Russia.
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