Kavan flies to U.S. to smooth out relations following Cuba spat

Jan Kavan

The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan arrived in Washington this week, for a five-day official visit. His visit has been complicated somewhat by some minor health problems - he fell ill with chest pains shortly after his arrival - but his trip also comes at a delicate time for U.S.-Czech relations.

Jan Kavan
The two countries - which have enjoyed close ties since the fall of Communism - were at odds earlier this year over a Czech-sponsored resolution criticising human rights abuses in Cuba. Washington had no problems with the general spirit of the resolution - but a passage describing the U.S. embargo against Cuba as counter-productive led to a flurry of backdoor diplomacy. The Czechs eventually dropped the offending paragraph, and the resolution was passed. But as commentator Jan Urban explained earlier to Rob Cameron, there's still a bitter aftertaste left over not only from the Cuban episode, but also from lukewarm Czech support for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia two years ago.

Jan Urban: The U.S.-Czech relationship is tainted by several unfortunate steps or decisions by the government. It started with the reluctance with which the Czech government in March 1999 finally agreed after some hesitation to support NATO's decision to bomb Kosovo and to enter the Kosovo conflict. But the latest dispute over the human rights resolution criticising Cuba was very damaging.

Radio Prague: But do you think it really was damaging? Or was it something which was just inflated by the Czech media? You know, not too much to write about at the moment, so let's create a massive diplomatic crisis out of what was little more than a storm in a teacup.

JU: I don't think it was 'media-created'. We have to see that we are moving in a very volatile environment. Support for further NATO enlargement is not widespread so to say, and any dissenting voices coming from the first three who joined - Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary - are always seen as a warning of the probability that more trouble could come from the East. So I think that this anti-Americanism that is visible among many Social Democratic politicians - but also on the Czech right within the ODS [Civic Democrat] party - is something our partners in the European Union and NATO are increasingly worried about.

RP: Well, precisely, you mention NATO - of course next year Prague will host the NATO summit, and that's going to be one of the top points on the agenda of Mr Kavan's talks with the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. What do you think the two men will be talking about when they do sit down to meet?

JU: I think it was high time these two sat down to meet, because Colin Powell was calling President Havel trying to find out what was really going with this Cuban resolution, and I think that this is a chance to smooth out these differences. (It's a chance) to make clear that despite differences which in my view have more in common with the personal history of Jan Kavan as a former very left-wing student leader in the 60s could be worked out.

RP: Nonetheless, Mr Kavan said in March that Czech-American relations hadn't worsened, that the two countries agreed in more areas than they disagreed. Do you think he was possibly exaggerating a little?

JU: No, I think he's right - there is no crisis between the United States and the Czech Republic. It's just that on certain occasions - and the war in Kosovo is something that should be remembered as something very dramatic - the Czech Republic did not act as a 100 percent helpful and loyal ally.