“They have a good chance”: New US ambassador targets Dukovany deal for Westinghouse

American ambassador to Czechia, Bijan Sabet

The new American ambassador to Czechia, Bijan Sabet, said this week that supporting US firm Westinghouse’s bid to construct a new nuclear bloc at the Dukovany power station is a priority for his embassy. Two other bidders, from South Korea and France, are in the running. I discussed the US Embassy’s plans with journalist Daniel Anýž, an expert on Czech-American relations.

Dukovany nuclear power plant | Photo: ČEZ

“At this moment it seems that they have a good chance because they can wafer for reactors 81,000 which they are offering for Dukovany. They can show that they are working in China. On the other hand, we still remember and it’s a kind of bad deja vous, the former tender for Temelín that was announced in 2010 and it was the then US Ambassador Norman Eisen when he came in 2011 it was his priority to support the Westinghouse bid.

“However, the semi-state-owned company CEZ ended up cancelling the tender in 2014. Norman Eisen was quite disappointed at the time. He issued a not so diplomatic statement that the US government is disappointed and that they have doubts about what message it will show to international investors.

“Westinghouse is in a good position. It is probably the favourite company of the three of them. However, we will see what the final outcome will be.”

Daniel Anýž | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

You mentioned the former US Ambassador Norman Eisen there. I was wondering what you make of the new US Ambassador Bijan Sabet since the position was left vacant for more than three years before Sabet assumed the position.

“Yes. The process of selecting, nominating and confirming US ambassadors can be painfully slow at times. It happened with Norman Eisen. He assumed the position [in 2011] after a two-year-long interim. The same also happened now with Bijan Sabet. It’s probably a bit about technical issues in the White House. Perhaps they had technical issues, other stuff to care about and they delayed this ambassador selection process.

“It’s not nice and it shows how many different things are on the White House’s agenda. But still, it would be good if they could somehow speed up this process.”

Czech soldiers during a NATO exercise | Photo: Gertrud Zach,  United States Army,  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

The Czech Republic also finalised a draft treaty on military cooperation with the US recently. The ambassador also announced the United States will provide a further USD 200 million to Czechia as part of foreign military cooperation in modernising the Czech Army. I understand this is also a very important topic for the embassy?

“Speaking about the treaty on defence cooperation. This is very interesting, because they already closed the negotiation. The text is final. Now it will be sent on to the Czech government which will approve it and then it will be signed.

“However, I would say that the tricky part is that it needs to be ratified by the Czech Parliament. I am afraid that the discussion around it by opposition parties, such as Freedom and Direct Democracy and perhaps ANO, will be kind of awful, because there still is the question around Czech society and politics about whether we shall have a US base on Czech territory. That is not part of the treaty. I am not expecting that it will be interesting and set the discussion.

“Just to remind you about what happened lately in Slovakia a couple of weeks ago – they had to pass a special supplement to this treaty which was offered by President Caputova that said that there will be no US bases in Slovakia. I am afraid that they will hear about this in the Czech Republic. Speaking about the USD 200 million.

“This is the latest package of US help for Czechia which comes from the big package that was approved by US Congress last September. But still, it is help and it is meant to compensate the Czech Army for the equipment, weapons and training sent to Ukraine.