Ambassador Sabet: Treaty in no way authorises permanent US troops on Czech soil

Earlier this week, Czechia and the United States signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement in Washington. The treaty creates a legal framework for the possible deployment of US soldiers on Czech territory, though officials on both sides insist it does not pave the way for a permanent American base. The American ambassador to Prague, Bijan Sabet, who arrived in the city early this year, discussed the DCA – and more – with Czech Radio journalist Jan Bumba.

If I may start with the Defence Cooperation Agreement that was signed at the Pentagon by the ministers of defence and the USA and the Czech Republic, it’s described as a very important step by the politicians. How important is it, in your opinion?

Photo: Andrew Harnik,  ČTK/AP

“It is a symbol of our cooperation and joint defence.

“We’re pleased to have this agreement signed and of course the next step is ratification by the Czech Parliament.

“So it’s a very important milestone for our two countries.”

What’s in it for the USA? What is Washington so keen to sign such agreements?

“As you know, or likely know, we have such an agreement with many, or most, of our NATO allies.

Bijan Sabet | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,

“And both the Czech Republic and the United States sought this agreement.

“It’s an agreement that is an important one for both countries and our shared readiness. It enhances our NATO interoperability. It allows us to move quickly and respond to issues as they arise.

“And it really makes our existing strong shared defence cooperation even stronger.”

The Czech minister of defence, Jana Černochová, spoke about “more intensive practical cooperation between the Czech Army and the US armed forces.” What kind of cooperation?

“This is a legal framework that allows the US military and the Czech armed forces to cooperate in exercises here in the Czech Republic.

“Of course there is training in both directions, but this framework allows for us to work even more closely together.”

How soon can we actually expect some visible examples of this cooperation?

“The next step is ratification by the Czech Parliament, then the approval and signature by President Pavel, and we’re looking forward to that happening quickly.

“The sooner we can get that step underway, the sooner we can start planning for all the things we can do together.”

And after the ratification, what can we expect?

President Petr Pavel  | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“I think the details will be sorted out.

“I think this is a framework to put these things in place, so that we can make those plans.”

On the subject of the ratification process, some deputies have said that they need more information. Will it be provided?

“This agreement has been negotiated between of course the US and the Czech government.

“I can’t really comment on the process internally within the Parliament.

“This agreement is a framework really to allow us to work more closely together.”

“But it’s been very transparent and open and the Czech government has been negotiating this agreement with the US.

“And we’re pleased that was signed [on Tuesday].”

If I can go back to the words of the Czech minister of defence. She stresses that the DCA should primarily regulate the legal status of American soldiers on Czech soil. Under which circumstances can US soldiers actually appear in the Czech Republic?

“This is not the primary element of the Defence Cooperation Agreement.

“This agreement is a framework really to allow us to work more closely together and to enhance our joint readiness.

“We have US personnel on Czech soil already for decades, in terms of working together on exercises.”

“The US military and the Czech military already cooperate. We have US personnel on Czech soil already for decades, in terms of working together on exercises and these sorts of things.

“The DCA doesn’t change any of that, in terms of personnel here working cooperatively with the Czech military.”

Maybe some people are afraid that the DCA will enable the deployment of American forces permanently in the Czech Republic?

“The Defence Cooperation Agreement in no way signals or authorises or anticipates permanent US troops.

“This agreement is similar to agreements with the majority of other NATO countries.

“The Czech Republic has carefully this agreement to make sure it works for your country and this idea of permanent troops – it’s simply not the case.”

Will the DCA enable the Czech Republic to obtain some American weapons more easily?

F-35A Lightning | Photo: U.S. Air Force,  public domain

“We are of course working with the Czech government.

“We are pleased that the Ministry of Defence has announced its intention to acquire F-35s. Those discussions are underway.

“In terms of other equipment and assets, the Czech Republic has also purchased 12 helicopters.

“So there are ongoing discussions about these matters, and those conversations were happening even before the DCA.”

As far as the F-35 jets are concerned, will the DCA speed up the purchase or anything like that?

“Those discussions are happening at the expert level.

“Our Czech partners have been to the US several times to have in-depth discussions.

Jan Bumba | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Český rozhlas

“The Lockheed Martin people have been to the Czech Republic also in a number of follow-up meetings.

“So those discussions are happening. They’ve already been happening and they will continue.”

There are voices saying that Europe, including the Czech Republic, is too dependent on the USA as far as defence is concerned. What’s your opinion?

“The Czech Republic works with a wide range of NATO allies to take care of its security.

“I’m proud and pleased that the US and the Czech Republic have a very special strategic relationship.

F-35 Lightning II | Photo: Petr Bušta,  Czech Radio

“So it’s true that we are in discussions around US advanced weaponry – it’s the best the world.

“The F-35 is the best in class.

“But certainly the Czech Republic will continue to evaluate their needs with a wide range of other partners, and that’s fine too.”

If I can go back to the topic of the public perception of this agreement and maybe military cooperation in general, what kind of reputation do you think the USA has in Europe?

“I think what we have signed is that the NATO partners are aligned.

“We are working together as closely as ever to protect and defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Bijan Sabet | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,

“You’ve seen this during the Czech presidency of the EU Council. You see it in the immediate response to this illegal war that Russia has launched; the Czech Republic was the first to provide military assistance.

“I commend the Czech Republic on providing humanitarian support.

“We are working together on a number of initiatives to help protect Ukraine.

“So the partnership, bilateral and multilateral with our NATO coalition partners, is I think unified and stronger than ever.”

Dukovany nuclear power plant | Photo: ČEZ

Let’s change the topic. How important a task in your mission in the Czech Republic is lobbying for the company Westinghouse in its bid for the tender to build new nuclear reactors [at Dukovany] in the Czech Republic?

“Fundamentally we believe, like the Czechs believe, that energy security and national security are really interwoven; they are completely aligned.

“As such the United States stands behind the Westinghouse-Bechtel bid.

“It’s a major priority of the work we’re doing here.

“[The Dukovany deal] is a very important strategic partnership that will impact the Czech Republic for maybe 50 or 100 years.”

“We believe that Westinghouse has the best technology, the best track record and has the most significant commitment also to the Czech Republic and the region, as well as incorporating local industry, local stakeholders and the Czech ecosystem to fully participate in this nuclear construction, if they’re successful.

“I think the other item to really highlight and point out is fundamentally this is more than an economic or commercial bid.

“It’s a very important strategic partnership that will impact the Czech Republic for maybe 50 or 100 years.

“So I think between the technology and the track record and local industry we want to be the partner for the Czech Republic, for its energy.

“And I think this nuclear plant is an exciting one and one that we really believe will be an opportunity for other areas as well.”

Part of your job as an ambassador is to create a positive image of your country. Where do you start?

“Where do I start? Well, I’m honoured to be here. For me this is a dream, to be in the Czech Republic.

“Being able to do this work is really the honour of a lifetime.”

“Of course it’s an important friend and partner to the US, so being able to do this work is really the honour of a lifetime.

“I’ve been received so warmly and my affection for Czech people and being in the Czech Republic is hopefully apparent in my day to day interactions.

“So I love being here and I’m doing everything I can with our embassy team, working every day to continue to make our relationship even stronger.”

If you don’t mind a little bit of a personal question, before becoming an ambassador you had an impressive career in business. Why is service in diplomacy attractive for a person like you, who surely doesn’t need to do it for money or travelling opportunities or prestige?

“This opportunity to serve my country, and to work with the men and women at US Embassy Prague on this critically important relationship, is why I’m here.

Photo: Office of Czech Government

“The Czech Republic and the United States have a relationship that spans a wide range of activities.

“Just in the last few weeks we’ve had meetings on collaboration around science, healthcare, start-ups, shared defence.

“The activity engagement is wide-spanning, so I’m using my private sector experience, combined with the team we have here, to further enhance our relationship.”

Yes, and for you personally? Why is this job, this service interesting for you?

“I really grew up in a world where my parents instilled in me the importance of democratic values and institutions.

Bijan Sabet | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,

“My own story is I grew up with two parents who came from other countries who felt at first hand the importance of freedom, opportunity and democratic principles.

“My mother lived in South Korea, where she saw at first hand what happened there.

“My father came from Iran, where he has shared the importance of democracy and democratic institutions.

“And I grew up with this in my bones.

“So the idea of committing my time and energy and my experience to working with this team here is what compels me to do so.”