President Vaclav Havel on "farewell trip" to the United States

President Havel with his wife

President Vaclav Havel has embarked on a six day official visit to the United States, his last before his term ends in four months' time. Commentators are describing it as a "farewell trip" packed with top level meetings, get togethers with old friends and opportunities for Mr. Havel to use his particular brand of diplomacy to promote human rights and freedom. Earlier today Daniela Lazarova spoke on the phone with Miroslav Konvalina, one of the Czech Radio journalists accompanying the president:

"President Havel is still the most visible personality in the Czech Republic and he is in the United States at the invitation of President George Bush. He will visit Washington, New York and Miami. The most important events are scheduled for the first day of the official visit /Wednesday/when the President and First Lady will be welcomed by President Bush in the White House, after which there will be a state dinner held in their honor. Also of interest is the unveiling of a memorial statue to the first Czechoslovak President Tomas G. Masaryk in Washington DC. This is a very important event for the Czech-American community and it will be attended by Czech Americans from all over the United States."

We've heard that President Havel is to visit the Ground Zero site of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center. Doubtless he will also be discussing the war against terrorism with President Bush -is that right?

"Yes, that is correct. There will be a short meeting with the press before the talks in the Oval Office and we expect some comments on Iraq from President Havel and President Bush. Another important event is President Havel's visit to New York, where he will award a high Czech distinction to the city's former mayor Rudolf Giuliani and he would also like to visit St. Paul's Church in the vicinity of Ground Zero."

Now, I understand that President Havel is also to meet with the American Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Will the upcoming NATO summit here in Prague be high up on the agenda of those talks?

"Yes, there have already been a series of preparatory meetings between the Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and his US counterpart Donald Rumsfeld during which the US administration assured the Czech Republic that it is practically certain that seven countries will be invited to join NATO during the November summit in Prague. There will certainly be a discussion on the war against terrorism, about Czech participation in ISAF and other missions. The Czech Republic is making a big effort to continue its mission in Afghanistan and to maintain its chemical defense unit in Kuwait . The government has limited resources but there is political will and flexibility in seeking ways to remain active in this respect."

You said that President Havel was highly respected in the United States. Are there signs that he will be sadly missed when he leaves office in four months time?

"Yes, he is. And we know that after all these years - this is his thirteenth visit to the United States - it is really the end of an era. We feel that Poland's President Kwasniewski is a personality who will replace President Havel in forging a special relationship with the United States. Of course the Czech administration is looking for someone who could replace President Havel in this respect. There are some candidates, but there is no visible and highly respected personality who could match Vaclav Havel. And with all probability we can expect standard diplomatic ties in the future".