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Zeman meets his Slovak counterpart Kiska in Tatras

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Strbske Pleso, North Slovakia, April 5 (CTK) – The only unresolved Czech-Slovak problem is the absence of the Czech House in Bratislava, Czech President Milos Zeman said at a meeting with his Slovak counterpart Andrej Kiska on Thursday.

Zeman, who thereby started the official part of his visit to Slovakia, said he would like to open the Czech House in Bratislava by the end of his mandate. He added that it should be a three-storey building in the centre of Bratislava.

Zeman also said he had a promise from an unnamed businessman who would like to take up the project.

“Do not worry, we will certainly find the nine million Czech crowns (for its construction) and the Czech House will be definitely established,” Kiska said in reaction to Zeman’s remark.

The Slovak and Czech presidents also differ on the expulsion of Russian diplomats in reaction to the poisoning of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain of which London accused Moscow.

Unlike the Czech Republic along with most EU member states, the United States and other allies, Slovakia decided not to expel any Russian diplomats.

“I have personally some doubts about the expulsion of foreign diplomats, nevertheless, I do respect the division of powers. The expulsion is in the power of the prime minister,” Zeman said in reaction to a journalist’s question.

On the contrary, Kiska expressed regret at the fact that Bratislava had not joined most of the EU members expelling Russian diplomats and that it had only withdrawn Slovak ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

“I consider it extremely important to show solidarity to our partners from the EU and NATO in this conflict. I regret that out of the Visegrad Four members (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), we are the only country not to expel (Russian) diplomats. We should have taken the same steps as most EU countries,” Kiska said.

In reaction to a journalist’s question, Zeman also commented on the formation of a new Czech government after Andrej Babis’s ANO minority government lost a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies in January and resigned. ANO is negotiating about the formation of Babis’s second cabinet.

Zeman said a framework agreement had been reached that the cabinet would be formed in cooperation between ANO and the Social Democrats (CSSD) with support of the Communists (KSCM). He added that the potential partners had almost fully agreed on the programme, but they would still discuss personnel issues for some time.

This has been Zeman’s first official foreign trip in his capacity as president since his re-election in January.

Both presidents appreciated bilateral relations at their joint press conference after the talks in Strbske Pleso in the High Tatras, the highest Slovak mountain range.

“I do not know another two countries that are as close as the Czech Republic and Slovakia,” Kiska stressed.

“I feel here like at home,” Zeman added.

Kiska welcomed it that Zeman had paid his first foreign visit after his re-election to Slovakia and the Tatras. Tens of thousands of Czechs annually enjoy the beauties of these mountains, he added.

Kiska and Zeman will meet there again along will their Hungarian and Polish counterparts at a summit of the Visegrad Four (V4) countries’ presidents in early October.

Kiska also welcomed Zeman’s invitation to celebrations of 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s birth in Prague on October 28. Zeman will attend the Slovak celebrations in Martin, west Slovakia, on October 30. In the meantime, both presidents will join a trip by a presidential train from Brno to Bratislava.

Zeman, who Zeman arrived in the Tatras on Wednesday, recalled that he had visited the Tatras after 20 years. Last time, he was there as Czech PM to meet his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda and agree on the solution to the last Czech-Slovak conflict – the division of the Czechoslovak gold.

In the afternoon, Zeman will meet new Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini who replaced Smer chairman Robert Fico (both Smer-Social Democracy) at the helm of the coalition government two weeks ago.

Zeman will end his three-day visit to Slovakia on Friday.

He follows up the tradition of the Czech heads of state paying their first foreign visits in office to the neighbouring Slovakia and vice versa. Both countries formed a joint state, Czechoslovakia, that was founded in 1918 and definitively split in 1992.

Kiska and Zeman agreed to meet in the High Tatras, on condition that Zeman defended his post, when Zeman arrived in Bratislava at the end of his first five-year term in office last year.

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