Foreign Minister Svoboda asks USA to waive visa requirement and holds talks on relocating RFE/RL

Der tschechische Außenminister Cyril Svoboda (Foto: CTK)

The Czech Foreign Minister, Cyril Svoboda, is in the United States, and one of his most ambitious missions has been to persuade the USA to waive visa requirements for Czech citizens. Of the new EU members only Slovenia meets the criteria set by the US authorities. The number of Czech illegal workers in the States is still above the threshold set in the so-called "visa waiver programme"; its estimated that tens of thousands of Czechs have entered the United States on tourist visas and now live and work there illegally.

Cyril Svoboda, photo: CTK
Following Mr Svoboda's meeting with his US counterpart Colin Powell on Tuesday, he told journalists Mr Powell had promised to discuss the matter with President Bush but stressed that the decision was in the hands of Congress. But as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Heather Conley, told Czech Radio correspondent Miroslav Konvalina, the USA can offer very little hope to the Czechs:

"The secretary absolutely understood this is important to the Czech people. We have been certainly hearing about this issue not only from the Czech government but also from the Polish and the Hungarian governments. At this moment, the Czech Republic does not fit the congressionally mandated criteria to be in the visa waiver programme. The secretary implored the foreign minister and turned to the Czech people to be patient with us. After 9/11, our visa policy became very strong. Of course, we must protect our borders - this is an essential element of sovereignty to protect our national security. So, we'll continue to have very good discussions with the government to see if there are ways we can improve how we are providing our visa service to the Czech people and of course we'll continue this dialogue with the government."

After September 11, fears of further attacks on US interests around the world promoted discussion on the possible re-location of the US funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague's city centre, where it has been housed in the former Czechoslovak Parliament building since the mid nineties. The station's recent shift of focus towards Arab countries has made it a potentially sensitive terrorist target. But according to Ms Conley, relocation is a matter of years and not months:

"We do obviously need to re-locate and those types of discussions are taking place with various developers and we do have a timetable, we very much hope that the completed move can occur in 2007 but these are details that can be worked out."