The sounds of the American anthem welcomed US President George W. Bush to Prague Castle on Tuesday for talks with his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, as well as with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. The talks were the first stop of Mr Bush's European visit, which includes, first and foremost, attending the G8 Summit in Germany, where Mr Bush will head on Tuesday evening. Mr Bush's stop-off in Prague, though brief, was not unimportant: he was in the Czech capital to discuss a number of issues, among them a US request to station part of its missile defense system in the Czech Republic. Also discussed were other issues including US visa policy.
Mirek Topolanek, George W. Bush, Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
Tuesday's meeting between Presidents George W. Bush and Vaclav Klaus as well as Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek went well all three indicated, shortly after the talks wrapped up at Prague Castle. Speaking to reporters shortly after the talks ended, both Mr Bush and Vaclav Klaus stressed that the Czech Republic and the US shared views on key issues and retained strong common interests. A number of topics were discussed, the most important by far being a US proposal to station a radar base in the Czech Republic as part of its planned missile defense shield. President Vaclav Klaus said he and Mr Bush understood each other on the issue; he added it was of utmost importance that the US employ maximum effort towards explaining missile defense to Russia, something that was equally backed by Mr Bush:
George W. Bush, photo: CTK
"As [President Klaus] mentioned, I look forward to having conversations with President Putin not only at the G8 but when he comes to the United States. And my message to Vladimir [Putin] - I call him Vladimir - will be you shouldn't fear a missile defense system. As a matter of fact, why don't you cooperate with us on a missile defense system? Why don't you participate with the United States? Please send your generals over to see how such a system would work. Send your scientists, let us have the ability to discuss this issue in an open forum which will be completely transparent."
The US president also indicated it was important to make an important distinction between US-Russian relations of the past and their relations today:
George W. Bush and Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
"Let me first talk about a general principle when it come to relations with Russia: the Cold War is over. It ended. The people of the Czech Republic don't have to choose between being a friend to the United States or a friend with Russia. You can be both. We don't believe in a zero-sum world. We don't believe one should force a country to choose. We believe, as a matter of fact, that when you work together you can achieve important objectives. One objective is to guard against a missile attack by a rogue regime. That's a true threat to peace. As I've told Vladimir Putin: Russia is not our enemy."
George W. Bush and Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
In terms of visa policy, Mr Bush was also direct, repeating an earlier pledge that he would work with the US Congress to see changes that could affect the Czechs in the future in visiting the United States.
"There's no greater issue for the people of the Czech Republic than visa-waiver. I understand the issue well. I understand why people of this country would say 'Here we are sacrificing along with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet our people don't have the same visa rights as other countries that might not be so supportive in the effort against the extremists'. I see that contradiction. And therefore I am a strong supporter in changing our visa-waiver policy. I will work with Congress to come up with a policy that meets our needs, our security needs for example, but also treats the people of the Czech Republic with respect."