- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Czech resolve

The Czech Republic has enlisted in the U.S.-led war against global terrorism for the long haul, new Ambassador Martin Palous said yesterday.

Meeting with reporters over breakfast at the embassy just two months after arriving in Washington, the one-time human rights campaigner and former deputy foreign minister said the Czech government is committed to the military effort against terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond, our correspondent David R. Sands reports.

"We know there is a big debate under way about what the next steps may be, that Afghanistan is only a part of the overall operation," he said. "But our support has been quite clear for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, including possible military options beyond the current theater."

Czech forces, he noted, are already being readied for the effort. A 200-man anti-chemical warfare unit that served in the Gulf war is expected to be deployed next month, although the ambassador said he did not know precisely where the unit will serve. A joint Czech-Slovak force is also being sent to the Balkans to carry out peacekeeping duties while the U.S. military focuses on Osama bin Laden.

The Czech Republic became an intelligence front in the terrorism war when it was learned that September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta whom U.S. investigators say played a critical planning role in the strikes met in Prague in the spring of 2000 with an Iraqi diplomat later expelled by Czech authorities.

It is not known what the two discussed, but Czech and U.S. officials have suggested one possible target was the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty facility in Prague that broadcasts to much of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Acknowledging there was an "ongoing debate" back home about the security of the RFE/RL site, Mr. Palous said he believed his country would continue to host the broadcast facility.

"Politically, it is an important symbol to have this institution in Prague," he said.

The Czech Republic figures to be in the spotlight again in 2002 as it prepares to host the NATO summit in Prague in November. Having joined the alliance just two years ago, the Czech Republic is pushing for another ambitious expansion of Eastern and Central European states, while looking askance at recent efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to increase Moscow's weight in NATO decision-making circles.

Czech President Vaclav Havel has been outspoken in his uneasiness over an increased formal Russian role in NATO, and Mr. Palous, deputy foreign minister before his assignment to Washington, strongly backs his longtime colleague from the days of the anti-Soviet Charter 77 Movement.

Mr. Havel "is not a Cold War old-timer who cannot go beyond the perceptions of the 1970s and 1980s," the 56-year-old ambassador said. "His arguments are deeper and more serious."

"We can build an anti-terrorism coalition that includes Russia, but at the same time, our predecessors throughout history have made some mistakes in assembling grand coalitions against a common enemy, and we should not repeat them," he said.

Kazakh leader's visit

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev will visit President Bush next week for talks on energy issues, economic reform and the war on terrorism.

"The visit reflects the deepening relationship between the United States and Kazakhstan on counterterrorism, nonproliferation, democracy, energy and pipelines, economic reform and Kazakhstan's integration into the global economy," the White House said this week, as it announced the Dec. 21 visit.

The Bush administration has continued the Clinton administration policy of courting Kazakhstan, despite Mr. Nazarbayev's authoritarian rule and his government's poor human rights record. However, the Central Asian nation is rich in oil and other natural resources.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visited Kazakhstan last week on his tour of U.S. allies in the war against terrorism and thanked Mr. Nazarbayev for his support. Kazakhstan has granted the United States the right to fly over its territory and offered the use of its military bases.

Mr. Powell told reporters that Kazakhstan is ready to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"I was pleased that the president indicated a willingness to participate fully in humanitarian efforts," Mr. Powell said.

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