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NATO Must Be Redefined in Post-Sept. 11 World, says Czech President - 2002-09-18

Czech President Vaclav Havel says NATO must redefine itself in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks on the United States. This comments came at the start of a meeting at the White House with U.S. President George W. Bush.

They talked about the war on terrorism, NATO expansion and Iraq. But it was clear from the start this meeting was about more than business.

It was also a chance for Mr. Bush to honor a friend he described as a man who symbolizes courage and determination, and a man who loves freedom. "You are a unique person who has helped change the world," Mr. Bush told the Czech leader.

President Havel, who suffers from acute respiratory problems, responded slowly in English - his words punctuated by labored breaths. "I would like to assure you that the Czech Republic is and will remain a good friend of the United States, a good ally," said Mr. Havel.

He thanked President Bush for the help provided by the United States following the recent floods in Prague, which caused about $3 billion in damage. President Havel then turned his attention to the NATO summit that will be held in the Czech capital in November. He said it is very important for the alliance to redefine itself, that NATO must find a new identity in what he called "this very changed world."

"Especially now, after the 11th of September, I think there is a lot of new kind of evil in this world, and it is necessary to face this evil and to face all who support it," said President Havel.

Later, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that President Bush saw the meeting as an opportunity to pay tribute to a great man. He recounted part of the conversation between the two leaders.

"President Bush said this to President Havel: 'it is important to speak with moral clarity, and when you see wrong, to speak about the wrong you see,'" said the spokesman.

President Havel, who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office, will retire in January. The man who is credited with guiding his county through its transition from the Soviet alliance to democracy and membership in NATO will spend a week visiting the United States. From Washington, he will go to New York where he will visit "ground zero" - the site of the former World Trade Center towers destroyed in the terrorist attack that occurred just over one year ago.