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Cablegate: Lukewarm Czech Reaction to Presidential Signing Of

VZCZCXRO4429
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHPG #0916/01 2200951
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 080951Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY PRAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9456
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PRAGUE 000916

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/NCE ATRATENSEK, EUR/PPD CBRUNER, CA/P SROYSTER
DHS FOR A/S MARISA LINO

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PREL CVIS EZ
SUBJECT: LUKEWARM CZECH REACTION TO PRESIDENTIAL SIGNING OF
"IMPLEMENTING 9/11 RECOMMENDATIONS" BILL

1. (U) Czech reaction to President Bush's August 3 signing of the
"Implementing 9/11 Recommendations" bill has been surprisingly
muted, given that the door is now open for the Czech Republic's
much-coveted membership in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). We did
see some positive press in late July when the bill came out of
conference; at the time, Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg was quoted
in the press as saying it is a positive step toward Czech VWP
membership. He also noted that the Czechs do not need to worry
about whether they qualify as having cooperated with the U.S. in the
war on terror, since regardless of their decision on hosting a U.S.
missile defense radar, Czech troops are with the U.S. in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Psychologically, VWP status would be a huge boost to
the Czechs, who long for the end of "second-class EU citizen"
status; however, at the moment they are displaying characteristic
caution and skepticism.

LITTLE MEDIA REACTION TO BILL; CZECH EXPECTATIONS ARE GUARDED

2. (U) While the issue has been covered in a factual manner online
and in the weekly Reflex magazine, and has been discussed on the
street, we have seen no opinion pieces on the President's actual
signing of the bill. Reaction has likely been muted because the
issue has already gotten significant play in the media in
mid-to-late July, with print, radio and TV all stressing that visa
waiver will not take effect immediately and that the proposed
Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) may require similar amounts of
data from prospective travelers to the U.S. as current visa
applications. An online journalist noted that he was tempted to
feel proud of Czech accomplishments, but then remembered the 1990s,
when Czechs were told they were the powerhouse of Central Europe,
only to face a humiliating 1997 economic crisis. He wondered what
the catch is in the current situation. MFA spokesperson Zuzana
Opletalova on July 27 welcomed the news that both houses of Congress
had agreed on language but cautioned that actual abolishment of
visas would take around two years. Leading daily Lidove Noviny
commented on July 27, "People will still have to go through the
screening process and provide lots of data beforehand. But it is
still progress." Jiri Roskot warned on July 27 in left-leaning
daily Pravo, "Cancelling visas will not mean paradise with no
restrictions. And if Czechs overstay, Washington will lift the
drawbridge quickly again."

3. (U) The most tepid response may have come from Czech Ambassador
to the U.S., Petr Kolar, in a radio interview on July 30,
highlighting a repatriation clause as one of the "absurdities" in
the bill. Kolar went on to say that Czech lawyers will need to
examine this and other provisions, implying that the road ahead will
be a long slog.

MFA STATEMENT STRESSES SOLIDARITY; CONSULAR OFFICIALS PLEASED BUT
CONCERNED ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION

4. (U) The MFA issued an August 3 statement welcoming the signature
of the bill, noting, "This means that the way to visa-free relations
between the U.S. and the CR exists." However, it also stressed
solidarity with other VWP hopefuls: "The current version of the law
does not meet the expectations of the 'Coalition for visa equality'
countries. The law keeps the refusal rate criterion as a condition
for granting Visa Waiver. The aspiring countries have no chance to
influence the number of rejected applications."

5. (U) MFA Consular Department officials were pleased that the
President signed the bill but not overly enthusiastic about the VWP
legislation as passed by Congress. They noted four major concerns:
1) Data privacy issues related to required information sharing, 2)
The method of reporting and level of detail of Lost/Stolen PPT data,
3) The required repatriation of people classified as "former"
citizens of a country, and 4) the uniformity of the new VWP
requirements and that all members, not just new members, would be
held to all the requirements of the new law.

OPINION ON THE STREET DIVIDED

6. (U) An informal poll of press section contacts indicates that
many Czechs who already possess a U.S. visa do not pay close
attention to the VWP issue. Their perception is that they will be
able to get or renew a 10-year visa and travel to the U.S. without
problem. Indeed, many would welcome under the new requirements not
having to travel to Prague for an interview, and they do not object
to submitting information online. However, those who are following
the new legislation closely complain that they will still be
required to submit information to U.S. authorities, and that they
will have to pay $20 each time for the ETA (which, in the case of
frequent travelers, will soon amount to more than the $100
application fee). One contact claimed, "This new system is worse
than nothing for Europe. America is going to kill two birds with
one stone - it will maintain that it has abolished visas for Eastern
Europeans but in reality, it will impose visas on Western Europeans

PRAGUE 00000916 002 OF 002


too." In addition, two stubborn myths persist: public perception
of visa refusals as arbitrary, and the perception that the Czech
Republic will get VWP status as a quid pro quo for agreeing to host
a missile defense radar station.

THOMPSON-JONES

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