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Czech Republic: Government Pledges To Cooperate With Neighbors

London, 20 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan says the new Social Democrat-led minority government will pay far greater attention to cooperation among Central European countries than the previous administration.

Speaking in London last night, Kavan said one of its aims will be to prevent what he called "new lines of division" emerging as a consequence of the forthcoming NATO and EU enlargement talks.

Kavan, who is accompanying President Vaclav Havel on a four-day official visit to Britain, spoke about his foreign policy priorities at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Kavan called for speedy acceptance of Slovakia into the rank of states seeking early European Union membership following last month's elections which saw the ouster of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.

Kavan said the only reason Slovakia is not among the fast-track candidates for both the EU and NATO is the western perception that Meciar represented what he called "a symbol of the democratic deficit."

Slovakia was left out of the first group of six EU applicants -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Slovenia, and Cyprus -- last year because of misgivings about Meciar's authoritarian behavior.

Kavan said the failure to include Slovakia was, in his words, "a terrible price to pay for one man's megalomania." He expressed confidence that the new Slovak government will, in his words, be "united by its determination to offset the undemocratic legacy of the Meciar government."

Kavan said he is not asking the EU and NATO to include Slovakia "suddenly from nowhere into the first wave" of applicants. But he said it would be "a great success for Central Europe and for Slovakia" if the EU and NATO considered the Slovak case soon after the first wave.

Kavan said: "Slovakia is once again part of the Central European region striving for a democratic and market-oriented system."

In the drive for greater Central European cooperation, Kavan recently met with the foreign ministers of Hungary and Poland. He said the spirit that gave rise to the Visegrad group in the early 90s is still alive -- and the three agreed "the fourth chair was always there, empty, waiting for Slovakia to occupy it." He said: "Now is the time for the fourth chair to receive its rightful occupant."

As soon as a new Slovak government is officially installed, Kavan said the Czech Prime Minister will lead a delegation (including himself) to Bratislava as a first step in forging a new relationship.

Kavan, who along with Havel was critical of the 1993 breakup of Czechoslovakia, said they will discuss some of issues left unresolved from the split, including property and citizenship questions.

Earlier, Kavan had talks with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook which included the problems caused by the recent influx of Czech and Slovak Roma (eds: gypsies) seeking asylum in Britain. Earlier this month, Britain imposed visas on Slovak citizens.

Kavan, who is to have further talks today on the Roma influx with Home Secretary Jack Straw, said the decision to impose visas was understandable but regrettable, and he hoped the British government will reconsider. He said he interprets the "introduction of visas for Slovak citizens as a kind of last serious warning to the Czech government as well."