Obama to make "European speech of the year" in Prague - Czech PM

Barack Obama, photo: CTK

Barack Obama doesn’t arrive in Prague until April 4th, but an “advance team” of advisors are already here to scout out locations for what the Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek says will be Mr Obama’s “European speech of the year.” Quite what he’ll say in it remains to be seen, with fresh questions raised this week over the future of the planned U.S. missile defence shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Prague Old Town Square
Early April in Prague is notoriously fickle; some years it’s freezing and grey, others it’s spring in full bloom, with blazing sunshine and clear blue skies. Those involved in Mr Obama’s trip must be hoping for the latter, as the U.S. president could be making his keynote speech – being tipped as his “European speech of the year” – in the open air. An advance team of advisors is already checking out possible locations, with Prague Castle, the Old Town Square and the embankment in front of the Rudolfinum concert hall all apparently in play.

Just what he’ll say is hard to guess. But certainly he’ll be under pressure to say something about plans to build a radar base on Czech soil as part of the missile defence shield, an agreement that was signed with the previous Bush administration. Mr Obama seems less keen on missile defence and – unlike Mr Bush – is certainly in no hurry to start deploying it in earnest.

Barack Obama, photo: CTK
There were fresh worries this week for Mr Topolánek’s centre-right government after it emerged in the Russian and American media that Mr Obama had sent a secret letter to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, reportedly offering to abandon missile defence in exchange for help in stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The White House has not commented publicly on the claims, but if confirmed, they would be a major political embarrassment for Mr Topolánek. He’s spent a good deal of political capital on the radar base, which still lacks approval in the lower house of parliament.

For now, though, the focus of the Czech media is on Mr Obama’s itinerary. It seems he will arrive in Prague on the evening of Saturday April 4th, to be welcomed by President Václav Klaus. Sunday he’ll apparently have breakfast with former President Václav Havel, before meeting leaders of the EU’s 27 member countries, and making his promised speech.

President Obama is due to be accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as his wife Michelle, something that could cause headaches for the prime minister’s protocol team. Mr Topolánek is separated from his wife and lives with his girlfriend, fellow Civic Democrat MP Lucie Talmanová. For the photo calls either he will appear alone alongside Barack and Michelle Obama, or with Ms Talmanová. The protocol team must decide which – in the absence of a married partner - is the lesser evil.