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Visit to the White House postponed – a minor setback or a misunderstanding? According to the diplomatic circles the official invitation has never been made

The visit of the Czech president Miloš Zeman to the White House was not only expected at the Prague Castle but also hoped for and even wished upon, especially after Washington’s failure to offer an official date and schedule of the visit.

Eventually, instead of a confirmation, a postponement was received. The matter will be discussed in the coming months of this year, but nothing is certain. All this is due to the crises on the international arena, particularly the one in North Korea, which have been keeping the US president Donald Trump engaged.

Most surely it is not a diplomatic crisis between Prague and Washington, but it certainly is a small setback for Zeman who has declared himself for months now as a first hand European supporter of the American billionaire in the US presidential run.

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Therefore, while waiting for a new date, and this time official, of the visit to the United States, we have in the background on one hand this “invitation-no invitation” received by the Czech head of state during a phone call with Trump last November and on the other hand the future of the relations between the Czech Republic and the United States with the presence of the Feast of Stone, known as Russia.

Several stories arose in the diplomatic circles – and not only in Prague – on the origin of the failed visit: the main focus was on the lack of a genuine invitation, which according to Zeman, would have been direct and explicit.

“It was during a private conversation – explained the Czech head of state talking about a phone call with Trump that took place in December. – He said he knew Czech Republic and that he had been here due to his first wife, Ivana”.

A few ironies were born on this matter: the former ambassador Petr Kolář, considered as one of the prominent representatives of the Czech diplomacy, revealed that the Czech president, during his short phone call with Trump last November, would not have received in fact a real invitation. It would have been rather a formality, a form of courtesy: “Listen, if you ever come this way, let me know, and we take a picture together”. Everything supposedly started from this point. Indeed, Zeman planned a trip to New York in April to receive a distinction from the Jewish Congress. In order to highlight the not really orthodox and vague situation, Kolář added: “I would not like to be in the place of Hynek Kmoníček, the Czech ambassador to Washington, who is now due to organize a visit to the White House based on an invitation of this sort”.

Based on the US State Department’s notes on Trump’s first phone calls to the international leaders, it turned out that the new American president would have told his counterpart: “You are my kind”, inviting him to Washington without many formalities. The agent who monitored the conversation also spoke of a “chemistry” between the two interlocutors, adding that “it was expected that the call with Zeman would go well, but not that well”.

The situation has never been clearer even at Pražský hrad, especially while the weeks went by without an official date being set by the White House. This is evidenced by the fact that eventually the Czech presidential circle would have turned for support to the lobbying agency Sonoran Policy Group, famously close to Trump, in order to set up the Washington meeting between the two heads of state. The attempt turned out to be a waste of time.

Even though the uncertainty was surpassed and the visit postponed, the matters on the agenda of the future meeting between Zeman and Trump will remain the same. The fight against Islamic extremism, on which the Czech head of state has repeatedly declared “to have common positions” with the White House resident, the migration crisis (on one hand, the anti-Islam attitude of both, the US Muslim ban and the refusal of Czech Republic to welcome migrants) and the strengthening of the Czech-American alliance.

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Regarding the latter however, there may be some difficulties: on one side, due to Zeman’s uncertainties related to the US raid in Syria ordered by Trump as a result of an alleged chemical attack and on the other, due to the closeness of the Czech president to Moscow and his position on the sanctions against Russia for the Ukrainian crisis, that he has several times defined as inappropriate and counterproductive strategy.

The agenda is most likely to include the matter of a Russian hacker who is detained in the Czech Republic, for whom both Washington and Moscow are demanding extradition. According to the FBI, it is all about an internet pirate who would have hacked LinkedIn a few years ago, stealing the profiles of millions of users.

The world’s stability is settled by the US-Moscow axis. This has beenthe situation for decades. However, during these past years, China and Turkey have joined the two protagonists, playing important roles and influencing essential choices on both European and international arenas. If we also think about the international crises, the Syrian, the North Korean and the migrant ones, the balancing act of the international leaders has become a daily practice.

The success of populist politicians and their powerful rhetoric, such as Donald Trump in the United States, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Vladimir Putin in Russia, are compelling the more moderate partners, or with a lower influence on the international scene to try to maintain the balance of power without losing the alliances.

Recently, Zeman as well had to or wanted to reorient his foreign policy preferences: China remains a strong ally and partner that the Czech head of state continues to court and keep close. On the Russia-US front, after the considerable endorsement for Trump of which he declared himself to be “a first hand supporter, the only European leader to have supported him before his election”, there were a few setbacks, especially after the above mentioned Syrian raid, condemned by Damascus and the Russian allies. According to Zeman, in this crisis it has been obviously proven to be fundamental not to ignore Moscow, of which he remains one of the most faithful advocates in Europe.

It is not known what will happen when and if Zeman will make his visit to Washington. What remains is Zeman’s passion for strong and divisive people of the world’s political spectrum. All this is in contrast with the more European and cautious positions of Bohuslav Sobotka’s government which is substantially close to the Brussels guidelines either on the Russian and American fronts or on the exit sanctions of Assad. An executive, the one in Prague, that has been always showing the will to maintain its autonomy from the Castle.

by Daniela Mogavero