It has been awhile since the United States was deeply interested in Slovakia, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shortly before meeting Slovak President Andrej Kiska in Bratislava on February 12.
Pompeo is the first US Secretary of State to visit Slovakia alone in 20 years. Before him, Condoleezza Rice came to Bratislava in 2005, but she was part of the delegation accompanying then-president George W. Bush to his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We appreciate the relations between our two countries that are so interested in freedom,” Pompeo said, as quoted by the Denník N daily. “It’s important to have strong defence, economic and political ties.”
Kiska described the US as an important partner and ally for Slovakia.
“No country, not even the biggest one, can face current problems and challenges alone,” the Slovak president said after meeting with Pompeo. “We have to seek mutual solutions and remove obstacles, not to introduce new ones.”
The two agreed that Europe and the US need each other.
Apart from Kiska, Pompeo also met with PM Peter Pellegrini and Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák. They discussed economic and defence cooperation, international diplomacy and foreign affairs topics, as well as the threats of Russia and China.
Economy and defence cooperation discussed
One of the topics discussed by Pompeo during his meeting with Slovakia’s top representatives was defence cooperation and defence spending. The US secretary of state appreciated the pledge by Slovakia to increase its spending on defence, something that he mentioned after meeting both Kiska and his Slovak counterpart, Miroslav Lajčák.
“The US significantly contributes to the modernisation of our security forces,” said Lajčák, referring to the purchase of F-16 fighter jets for the Slovak army.
Slovak politicians and Pompeo also discussed various foreign policy topics, such as developments in the EU, Ukraine, Western Balkans, and Venezuela, as well as relations with Russia and China.
Unlike the US and most EU countries, Slovakia has not recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as acting president in Venezuela. This intiative was blocked by the ruling Smer party. Pompeo did not comment on the issue.
Apart from Venezuela, Pompeo and Lajčák also discussed Slovakia’s goals as the country presiding over the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Both Kiska and Lajčák stressed during their speeches the importance of the US in the economic field. The country is one of the most important business partners of Slovakia, with US companies employing nearly 50,000 Slovaks, Kiska stressed.
“Slovakia as an automotive power will very sensitively perceive potential changes in EU-US economic relations that could have a direct impact on Slovak industry,” Pellegrini said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
He appreciated the fact that Pompeo came at the time Slovakia is very actively engaged in international diplomacy, as a country presiding over the Visegrad Group (V4), OSCE and the OECD Ministerial Council.
Political prisoners met Pompeo too
Apart from Slovakia’s officials, Pompeo also met with the representatives of political prisoners in Slovakia and young people. He started his official visit at the Gate of Freedom Memorial under Devín Castle, where he stressed that the relations between Slovakia and the United States are built on mutual values that need to be protected.
He also mentioned his own personal experience with the Iron Curtain, describing how as a young soldier he patrolled close to the border with Czechoslovakia.
"Slovakia has never been as independent and prospering as it is now,” he said, as quoted by TASR.
Pompeo pointed to the threat of Russia, which can now be clearly seen in Ukraine, and also of China.
“The promise of 1989 is as alive today as it was 30 years ago,” Pompeo said after meeting Lajčák. “The US has always believed in freedom for Slovakia. We’re proud to contribute to your success through an array of economic and other assistance programmes as well as through our mutual defence relationship.”
He added that support will not waiver in the future.
The first separate visit in 20 years
The first (and until recently the last) time a US secretary of state visited Slovakia alone was in November 1999, when the country was outside NATO and the EU, and was only one year without the government of controversial PM Vladimír Mečiar. It was Madeline Albright, who came on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the fall of communism.
Albright, who was born in Prague, held a lecture in front of students at Comenius University in Bratislava and gave an interview to the Slovak Television, speaking in Czech, the Denník N daily reported.
Apart from Rice, who was here as part of Bush’s delegation, the US diplomacy head has not visited the country for the past 20 years.
“If you look at, for example, France, the US secretary of state has visited it 65 or 66 times in the past 20 years,” a representative of the US ministry, whose name was not provided, told the press last week, as quoted by Denník N.
12. Feb 2019 at 16:22 | Compiled by Spectator staff