Czech president, US envoy in rare public spat over Ukraine

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2015 4:02 PM
Czech president, US envoy in rare public spat over Ukraine

PRAGUE (AP) — Czech President Milos Zeman and the U.S. ambassador are in a rare public dispute over Zeman's decision to attend a Russian military parade, and the country's prime minister and Czech lawmakers are siding with the American.

In an interview with online publication Parlamentni Listy on Sunday, Zeman bristled at the envoy's implied criticism of his decision to attend Moscow's traditional May 9 military parade despite tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Zeman said U.S. Ambassador Andrew Schapiro is no longer welcome at Prague Castle, the seat of the presidency.

"I think that the reaction of President Zeman was not adequate," Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said.

"I would naturally welcome it if the (president's) attitude to foreign policy in general was a bit more professional," Sobotka told Czech public television on Monday. "We should be able to communicate with our friends and allies."

The parliamentary speaker of the lower house, Jan Hamacek, said he thought Zeman was overreacting. The deputy speaker of Parliament's upper house, Premysl Sobotka, said Zeman demonstrated a lack of "diplomatic thinking."

In an emailed statement from the U.S. Embassy, Schapiro said "it would be unfortunate for President Zeman to be there as perhaps? the only EU head of state."

Zeman, whose is critical of European Union sanctions against Russia, said he wanted to honor Soviet soldiers who sacrificed their lives to liberate his country in World War II.

The Czech presidency is a largely ceremonial post and the government is in charge of foreign policy. Sobotka said he accepted Zeman's explanation for the trip.

Schapiro said he regretted that Zeman felt offended.

"I value a good working relationship with everyone, and I want him to know that my door will be open to him,"? Schapiro said. "I also want the Czech people to know that the United States government, and the people of America, value our relationship as partners and allies more than ever."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington that Schapiro has "our full confidence" and "this isn't the time for business as usual with Russia."

"It's an ongoing conversation with our partners about whether they travel there, the kind of relationship they have with Russia," she said. "We certainly believe European unity is important."