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Czech Republic: Havel Confers With Clinton

Washington, 17 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Havel continues his state visit to the United States today after declaring his love for - and puzzlement about - America.

With U.S. President Bill Clinton at his side, Havel told a joint news conference in Washington on Wednesday that the Czech Republic and the U.S. share the same democratic values.

Havel said: "The American nation is fantastic, with many different faces. I love most of these faces." He then smiled and added, "There are some which I don't understand. I don't like to speak about things which I don't understand."

The comment, which came in answer to a question posed by a Czech journalist, were an apparent attempt by Havel to stay away from a domestic U.S. controversy involving Clinton's relationship with a former White House intern.

The U.S. Congress is considering impeachment proceedings after an independent counsel concluded that Clinton may have committed perjury and abused his powers in trying to cover up the affair.

Clinton told the news conference that his determination to lead America and the world has not been diminished by the controversy. He said he has been pursuing important issues, such as Russia's economic crisis, the fight against terrorism, NATO expansion, the refugee problem in Kosovo, and peace efforts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

The U.S. president said these matters are important because they affect the way Americans live their lives. He said he will not stop leading American foreign policy.

On Kosovo, Clinton said there is a humanitarian problem in the Serbian province because refugees are being forced to flee fighting between Serb troops and ethnic Albanian separatists. He said the U.S. and its allies are doing everything they can to try to avert a humanitarian disaster. Clinton called on Serbia to restore autonomy to the mainly ethnic Albanian province.

Havel thanked Clinton for his leadership in helping Europe build a peaceful post-Communist world. He noted that both of the two world wars originated in Europe.

Regarding Russia, Havel described recent moves by Moscow to return to some state control over the economy as not alarming, saying he didn't "see anything very dangerous in it." "It's a complicated situation," Havel said, adding "it will still be in 50 and in 100 years." He added, "we understand these complications."

The two leaders met at the White House earlier in the day. During a welcoming ceremony, Havel thanked the U.S. for supporting the Czech Republic's quest to join NATO and said he believes the expansion will not end at the Polish, Hungarian and Czech borders. The three Central European countries have been invited to join NATO next spring, pending parliamentary ratification by all alliance members.

Havel, the dissident playwright and leader of the "Velvet Revolution" that returned democracy to his country, discussed a wide range of issues with Clinton during a White House meeting.

Today, Havel will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and has a meeting on Capitol Hill with leading lawmakers.

Later he is scheduled to open an exhibition at the Library of Congress on the birth of Czechoslovakia 80 years ago.