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Defence Minister to debate security, army upgrading in USA

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Prague, May 1 (CTK) – Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky (ANO) will debate the security situation, a rise in the Czech defence budget and modernisation of the Czech military with his U.S. counterpart James Mattis during his visit to the United States next week, Stropnicky has told CTK.

Both ministers might also talk about the purchase of helicopters for the Czech military since the U.S. Bell Helicopter producer is one of the serious bidders for the contract worth billions of crowns.

The bilateral meeting between Stropnicky and Mattis will take place in Pentagon in Washington on Tuesday.

Stropnicky was originally to leave for the USA with President Milos Zeman at the end of April and the beginning of May, but Zeman’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump was postponed.

“We were preparing the trip along with the president’s visit since we really needed the bilateral meeting,” Stropnicky said.

He will talk with Mattis about the global security situation, including the Middle East conflict and relations with Russia. They might also touch upon Turkey after the referendum strengthening the presidential powers and the problems caused by North Korea.

“Besides, we will deal with bilateral affairs and definitely the duties connected with NATO membership, either finances, our contribution to missions or building of our military’s capabilities and its modernisation,” Stropnicky said.

Defence Ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek said the ministers would discuss the deployment of Czech and U.S. troops in the coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as well.

Czech soldiers protect the allied Bagram base in Afghanistan and train Afghan helicopter pilots. Moreover, a Czech surgical team operates there.

Prague has also sent aviation advisers and doctors to Iraq.

“Other points of discussion will be cooperation within NATO and the upcoming NATO summit of heads of state to be held in Brussels on May 25,” Pejsek said.

Trump reiterated that he would like the European allies to spend more money on joint defence.

NATO members agreed in the past that each country would earmark 2 percent of GDP for defence. However, only few countries meet this commitment.

The Czech Republic gives about 1 percent of GDP to defence now, which is one of the lowest share out of NATO countries. The government promised to reach 1.4 percent of GDP in 2020.

Another topic of the talks between Stropnicky and Mattis might be the purchase of 12 helicopters for the Czech army. It has addressed several governments, including the U.S. administration that has offered the products of Bell Helicopter.

Deputy PM and Finance Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) said on Friday he was disappointed that Trump had not found a date in his schedule for a meeting with Zeman since the latter had intended to offer the contract on helicopters in the United States if he got a discount.

Stropnicky said the contract on helicopters was not the reason for his visit to the United States, but that this would be just one of discussion topics.

Stropnicky will also attend the Interdependency and Resilience international conference, held by the NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia, and visit the base of the Nebraska National Guard that has long cooperated with the Czech military.

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