Iraqi president in Prague, seeking closer ties

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

The Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has begun a tour of Europe, and his first port of call is the Czech Republic. This country is an ally of Iraq's post-war regime, and there are also long trade ties between the two countries, going back to the days of communism. Also Czech troops are currently in southern Iraq, helping to train the country's police force, and there are other projects in Iraq involving the Czech Republic - varying from renewing the country's cultural heritage, to rebuilding refineries. Mr Talabani has said he wants to deepen cooperation further, especially in rebuilding Iraq's devastated infrastructure, and this will be a focus of his talks with top Czech officials during his three days in Prague. Rob Cameron is following the Iraqi president during his visit, and joined me on the phone just as Mr Talabani was arriving at Prague Castle. So is it just a coincidence that Mr Talabani has started his tour of Europe here in the Czech Republic?

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,  photo: CTK
"That's a question that many people are asking, because, at least in terms of military commitment, Iraq does have many firmer allies than the Czech Republic - Poland and Slovakia for example. So many people aren't quite sure why he's chosen to begin his visit in Prague. At Prague Castle he will meet the Czech President Vaclav Klaus, and later in the evening there will be a state dinner held in his honour, before talks later in the week with senior Czech officials, which will focus on the reconstruction of Iraq."

You're at the castle just before the talks begin. How high-profile is this visit?

"It seems pretty high-profile from what I can see now. I'm actually in the Second Courtyard of Prague Castle and the Iraqi president is about to arrive. They've just played the Iraqi national anthem and the Czech national anthem and a guard-of-honour is now accompanying the president inside the castle. The central area of the castle has been completely cut off, there are a lot of policemen around, so this visit is certainly high-profile in that sense, with all the security measures that you'd expect."

So what do you think are the main concrete issues that will be up for discussion?

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
"As you mentioned, the Czech Army is involved in training Iraqi police recruits at the moment and the Iraqi government is interested in the Czechs extending that training to the Iraqi military. So that is obviously a very high priority for the security of the country, but also, as you mentioned earlier, its reconstruction and especially rebuilding the country's infrastructure, such as oil refineries, roads and factories, which Czech firms are expected to take part in. Mr Talabani is accompanied by a large delegation of ministers. They will be holding talks with Czech business people to that end."

The historical link between the two countries is interesting. From the days of communism there obviously are trade links that can be built on. I gather as well that this isn't Mr Talabani's first visit to the Czech Republic.

"It's not. He visited Prague in his capacity as head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. That was in 2004. But this is his first visit as president. So this is an important day for both countries."