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Czech Republic: President Havel Embarks On U.S. Visit

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 15 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Havel embarks on a three-day visit to the United States today (Tuesday) expected to be dominated by his country's planned accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Havel, the 61-year-old former dissident author who played a pivotal role in his nation's Velvet Revolution that swept away communism, will also use his visit to decorate Czech-Americans and others. Havel says he wants to thank them for advancing the cause of freedom and the interests of the Czech Republic and the former Czechoslovakia.

Havel is scheduled to meet U.S. President Bill Clinton at the White House, followed by a luncheon at the State Department and a state dinner that evening with Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and invited guests.

Aides to Havel say they anticipate the question of NATO expansion next spring to be a key topic of discussion during the president's visit. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have been invited to join the alliance pending parliamentary approval of all NATO member countries. The U.S. Senate already approved the measure earlier this year.

Both Clinton and Havel have been forceful advocates of NATO expansion, an idea opposed by Russia for fear it would jeopardize its security.

Havel will present decorations to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, retired U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick and former White House National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. They are all advocates of NATO expansion. In addition, Kissinger is a member of the American Friends of the Czech Republic society.

The T.G. Masaryk order -- named after the founder of the Czechoslovak Republic -- will be given to poet, translator and historian Jiri Kovtun who has been in charge of Czech literature department in the U.S. Library of Congress.

Havel's state visit will end on Thursday. Also scheduled are meetings with congressional leaders including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Doctors say Havel should be able to handle the long journey. He had serious complications in the wake of surgery in late July following a ruptured intestine. Havel also battled lung cancer earlier and lost a portion of his lung to surgery.

Aides to the Czech president say he is expected to have several hours of rest and medical supervision with his Czech team during his stay in Washington.

Clinton has met Havel on several occasions, including an official visit in to Prague in 1994. The two walked the streets of Prague and ended up in a popular downtown jazz club where the U.S. president played a few tunes on the saxophone.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is Czech born and has warm ties to Havel.