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09PRAGUE24 2009-01-13 11:13:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Prague
Cable title:  

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED DISCUSSES GAS CRISIS AND

Tags:   PREL PGOV EZ 
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1. (C) SUMMARY: The ongoing Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis
dominated Assistant Secretary Fried's meetings with EU and
Czech officials during his visit to Prague January 8-10. The
Czechs agreed with A/S Fried on the need to diversify both
routes and sources of Europe's energy imports, as well as on
the need to improve the interconnectedness of Europe's energy
infrastructure. Energy security was already a key theme of
the Czech EU presidency, and the Czechs plan to use the gas
crisis to add momentum to their efforts within the EU. A/S
Fried also discussed with the Czechs other foreign policy
challenges, including the Balkans, broader Middle East, and
missile defense. The Czechs are looking to engage with the
next administration early and proposed several possible
bilateral and multilateral visits. The January 9 EU
political directors meeting will be reported separately. END
SUMMARY.



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SHARED VIEWS ON ENERGY SECURITY


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2. (C) In a series of bilateral meetings, A/S Fried
reaffirmed the strong U.S.-Czech bilateral ties and shared
views on key foreign policy issues, including energy
security, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and missile defense (MD).
The ongoing Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis dominated A/S
Fried's January 8 meeting with DFM Tomas Pojar, who briefed
A/S Fried on the Czech efforts to mediate an agreement on
monitoring and on Czech domestic preparedness to weather the
gas shut-off. Pojar agreed fully with A/S Fried that
diversification of energy routes and sources, as well as
improved interconnection of the continent's various energy
networks, should be Europe's top priorities. Pojar noted
that Europe appeared more united with regard to these
priorities, but it remained to be seen whether this unity
would last long enough to move forward projects such as
Nabucco. Using as an example the Czechs' own experience with
the Ingolstadt oil pipeline, which the Czech government
financed and built in the 1990s, Pojar stressed that Nabucco
needed greater involvement -- including funding -- from
countries like Hungary. Note: We have heard similar
comments previously from the Czech Energy Envoy Vaclav
Bartuska. End Note. Pojar also noted that the Czechs would
not be pushing either North Stream nor South Stream during
their EU presidency, even though he expected that the Germans
and Bulgarians would now want to accelerate these projects.
Funding, however, would again be an issue. In addition,
Pojar discussed the Czechs' challenges in organizing the May
7 or 8 Southern Corridor Summit. He thought getting all
Central Asian leaders to participate would be difficult.
Czech efforts to that end were particularly hampered by the
fact that they do not have embassies in all countries that
would be involved, and Pojar asked whether the United States
could assist in reaching out to the relevant governments.



3. (C) In a January 9 meeting, DPM Vondra and A/S Fried
continued the discussion on the gas crisis. Vondra briefed
A/S Fried on PM Topolanek's planned mission to Ukraine.
Vondra speculated that Russia's actions were being driven by
the recent drop in energy prices, but he agreed with A/S
Fried that Russia's current economic difficulties were not
the sole reason. Like Pojar, Vondra spoke of the need to
capitalize on the current EU consensus regarding
diversification and interconnection. However, he noted that
even with Nabucco and other alternative sources (like LNG
from North Africa), Europe would remain dependent on Russian
gas. This is because the recently adopted EU climate package
will force many EU countries to rely increasingly on cleaner
gas, as opposed to coal, driving up European gas consumption.
This will be particularly true in countries like Germany and
Austria, where nuclear energy is not an option. Energy
security was also the focus of the brief call on Czech PM
Topolanek, who was preparing to leave for Ukraine.



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AGREEMENT ON OTHER REGIONAL PRIORITIES


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4. (C) A/S Fried and Pojar also discussed Ukraine and
Belarus, with A/S Fried noting the importance of the EU
Eastern Partnership initiative. Pojar noted that at this
time the Czechs are planning to invite President of Belarus
Lukashenko to the May 7 EU-Eastern Partnership Summit.
However, the Czechs have stressed to Belarus that this is
conditioned on further "good-will gestures." Pojar also
provided a summary of EU-Turkey relations, noting that during
their presidency, the Czechs "would like to move as much as
possible but may make less progress than France," given that

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there has been no break-through with Cyprus. The Czechs had
hoped to open two chapters with Turkey, but France and Cyprus
are blocking the two chapters that Turkey proposed to open.
As a result, the Czechs are now considering opening only one
chapter, energy, but this too is being blocked by Cyprus and
France. A/S Fried also made a strong pitch for continued
European attention to the Balkans. He stressed that Kosovo
could not be put on autopilot. Similarly, Serbia and Bosnia
Herzegovina would require continued attention. Pojar in turn
shared his frustration with other EU countries, where
enlargement fatigue has set in and which in turn are making
progress on new applicants from the Balkans difficult. A/S
Fried emphasized that Europe would also have to stay engaged
in, and increase its commitment to, Afghanistan and Pakistan,
two countries which will likely be at the top of the next
administration's agenda. Both Pojar and Vondra agreed that
the broader Middle East would remain a priority for the EU.



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CZECHS PUSH BACK ON GUANTANAMO DETAINEES


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5. (C) One area where U.S. and Czech positions diverged was
the issue of Guantanamo detainees. In response to A/S
Fried's inquiry regarding the Czech willingness to accept
detainees from Guantanamo, Pojar stated very forcefully that
the Czech Republic would not accept any detainees, but the
Czechs would work with the United States to press other
Europeans, especially those who were loudest in their
objections to Guantanamo, to do so. Although he caveated his
statement by saying that the Czech government has not yet
discussed the matter, he had no doubt that this would be his
government's official response. His position was later
reaffirmed by the Czech Political Director Martin Povejsil.
Comment: One of Pojar's statements betrayed what may be
behind this strongly held position on detainees. He let it
slip that if the Czech government accepted some detainees
"this would be another issue where the government would be
criticized by the opposition that they are giving in to the
United States." Pojar is correct that the opposition would
not pass up the opportunity to use this issue, as it has MD
and foreign deployments, to score political points against
the Topolanek government, which is already struggling to stay
in power. End Comment.



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MISSILE DEFENSE REMAINS A PRIORITY


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6. (C) In separate meetings, PM Topolanek, Vondra, and Pojar
stressed the Czech government's need to hear early the
incoming administration's position on MD. A/S Fried noted
that he could not speak for the new administration, but
stated that a number of upcoming events, including the
Wehrkunde, March NATO ministerial and April NATO Summit may
put pressure on the new administration to address MD early.
PM Topolanek stated that a clear, positive statement from the
Obama administration could help with the Czech opposition,
which continues to reject MD. Vondra also inquired about MD
funding prospects on Capitol Hill and discussed briefly his
recent meetings with Congresswoman Tauscher and Congressman
Wexler. He stated that should the Obama administration
accept Tauscher's suggestion to delink the radar from the
Polish interceptors, the Czech government could probably
accept and manage this change. Vondra also expressed a
concern that this perceived pressure to decide his
administration's MD policy should not dissuade
president-elect Obama from visiting Prague in April. A/S
Fried also discussed MD with a group of parliamentarians on
January 8. The parliamentarians, both coalition and
opposition, also expressed interest in the future of the U.S.
policy on MD. They acknowledged that the Czech government
has so far done a poor job explaining MD to the Czech public
and stressed the need for the Czech government and opposition
to find a "win-win" solution that would allow the Czech
parliament to ratify the MD agreements.



--------------------------



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LOOKING FORWARD TO ENGAGING OBAMA ADMINISTRATION EARLY


--------------------------



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7. (C) PM Topolanek, Vondra, and Pojar reiterated the Czech
government's invitation to president-elect Obama to visit
Prague in April for a meeting with the EU-27. Pojar
explained that in the January 7 phone call between
president-elect Obama and PM Topolanek, the Czechs pitched
the April Prague event as one that would dovetail nicely with
agendas of the other April events, i.e. the G-20 Summit
(economy) and the NATO Summit (security), which
president-elect Obama is expected to attend. The Czechs

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preliminarily plan to focus the EU-27 meeting on energy
security and climate, two key issues which would not be
addressed in London or Strasbourg. Pojar also noted that FM
Schwarzenberg (in February) and DPM Vondra (in March) planned
to visit Washington. Furthermore, the Czechs would like to
schedule a U.S.-EU Troika on the margins of the March NATO
ministerial in Brussels. A/S Fried stressed that no
decisions have been made by the new administration on
invitations, including these, but that he had recommended to
the transition team that president-elect Obama accept PM
Topolanek's invitation. In addition to these bilateral
meetings, A/S Fried was interviewed by several Czech news
outlets. He also met with Lithuanian FM Usackas. The Usackas
meeting is being reported separately by Embassy Vilnius.



8. (U) A/S Fried cleared this cable.
Graber