Senate holds public hearing on Czech foreign policy

Czechs in NATO postage stamp

This week, the upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate, held a public hearing to discuss the Czech Republic's foreign policy priorities. Senior politicians presented their views on such issues as further NATO expansion, the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union and regional cooperation in Central Europe. Dita Asiedu was there:

The opposition Civic Democrats' Foreign Affairs Spokesman, Jan Zahradil, told Radio Prague that he had expected the meeting to sink into a slanging match, but was pleasantly surprised by the degree of consensus:

"It is very optimistic that there is a basic fundamental agreement amongst the main political forces in the Czech Republic concerning their attitudes toward NATO, towards NATO's future, towards relations between NATO and Russia, and so on. I'm very positive about the public hearing and about its results because it showed that there is something which we could call a Czech national interest."

One of the most recent developments on the world diplomatic scene is the growing co-operation between NATO and Russia. In the course of the international campaign against terrorism, there has even been talk of Russia becoming a NATO member. Although President Vaclav Havel stressed the importance of the alliance's expansion - saying that next year's NATO summit in Prague will see a historic decision on admitting new members - he strongly opposed the idea of including Russia. President Havel said that the Alliance could not include both the United States and Russia, as the two big powers would end up dominating any NATO meeting. The Chairman of the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee Michael Zantovsky was in full agreement with the Czech President

"I touched on this problem in my speech, too, and I said that the current international situation has made the shared security issues between NATO and Russia more evident than before. This creates conditions for closer co-operation, but we should realise that such co-operation can only be limited. This partnership against terrorism does not mean that we share identical values and foreign policy interests. In other words, I am for closer co-operation between NATO and Russia, but I can also see the limits within which this should be happening."

All mainstream political parties share this scepticism about Russia joining the alliance. The only notable hint of support came from the Prime Minister Milos Zeman himself, who said that, considering the changing political climate, it would be a mistake to shut the door on Russia altogether.