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DIPLOMATIC SHORT

Visa memorandum with USA could come soon

SLOVAKIA will probably sign a memorandum of understanding opening the road to the lifting of visa requirements for Slovak tourists travelling to the USA, according to diplomatic sources with whom the ČTK newswire has spoken. Similar memoranda, signed in February by the Czech Republic and this month by Estonia and Latvia, have angered some EU members who oppose bilateral deals.

SLOVAKIA will probably sign a memorandum of understanding opening the road to the lifting of visa requirements for Slovak tourists travelling to the USA, according to diplomatic sources with whom the ČTK newswire has spoken. Similar memoranda, signed in February by the Czech Republic and this month by Estonia and Latvia, have angered some EU members who oppose bilateral deals.

Speculation originally emerged in Brussels that Slovakia might sign a memorandum. The Slovak ambassador to the EU, Maroš Šefčovič, said he could neither confirm nor deny the reports. Talks with Washington were still underway, Šefčovič said, adding: "The talks have not been concluded." According to some diplomatic sources, a memorandum between Slovakia and the USA could be only a matter of days away.

Šefčovič said talks were held on March 13 between the European Commission, the presiding EU country (Slovenia) and the USA on American visas. "It is in the interests of both Slovakia and the USA to reach an agreement very soon," Šefčovič said. Along with Slovakia, similar memoranda may be signed by other countries such as Hungary and Lithuania.

EU ambassadors have agreed that EU members should be able to conduct talks on visa-free contact with the USA on a bilateral basis. Within the joint policy, the Czech Republic has agreed that the data they exchange with the USA will be in harmony with the agreement between the EU and the USA on the processing and transfer of passenger name record (PNR) data by air carriers.

The Commission had been afraid that following the agreement with the Czech Republic, America might withdraw from the PNR agreement. At present, citizens of all the EU newcomers, except Slovenians, need visas for trips to the USA. Among the older EU members, only Greece is not covered by the US Visa Waiver Program. ČTK

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