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Czech President, US Envoy Spar Over Moscow Parade

Czech President Milos Zeman, April 3, 2013.

Czech President Milos Zeman has "closed the door" of Prague Castle to the U.S. ambassador, Andrew Schapiro, following the envoy's comments comments perceived as critical of the Czech leader's decision to attend a World War II commemoration in Moscow, according to local media reports.

European Union leaders are boycotting the ceremony in May over Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict, though Zeman - who frequently has departed from the EU line - has said he would attend.

In an interview with online publication Parlamentni Listy on Sunday, Zeman bristled at the envoy's implied criticism of his decision to attend Moscow's traditional May 9 military parade at a time the Russian army has destabilized Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro (Courtesy - U.S. Embassy, Prague)
U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro (Courtesy - U.S. Embassy, Prague)

"I can't imagine the Czech ambassador in Washington would give advice to the American president where to travel," said Zeman. "I won't let any ambassador have a say about my foreign travels. Ambassador [Andrew] Schapiro has the door to the castle closed."

Czech lawmakers disagree

Czech lawmakers, however, are siding with the American.

Parliament's lower house speaker Jan Hamacek said he thought Zeman was overreacting; the deputy speaker of Parliament's upper house Premysl Sobotka said Monday that Zeman's edict proved a lack of "diplomatic thinking."

Analyst Jan Mlejnek said Zeman's rhetoric will harm Czech-U.S. relations.

A presidential spokesman told local media that Schapiro could still attend social events at Prague Castle, the official residence of the Czech president.

Schapiro told Czech television earlier this week it would be "awkward" should Zeman attend the ceremony as the only statesmen from an EU country.

'Awkward' situation

Zeman, a former prime minister, frequently has departed from the common EU line on Ukraine and criticized sanctions against Moscow. The government, which is responsible for foreign policy, however, has held the EU line fully.

The Czech presidency is largely a ceremonial role, but Zeman - who was the first president directly elected when he took office in 2013 - is outspoken on his views on both domestic and foreign policy.

In a TV interview last week, the US ambassador questioned the staunchly pro-Russian Zeman's wish to be "probably the only EU head of state" to attend the showcase parade on Moscow's Red Square. He added, however, that it was not up to him to tell the Czech president what to do.

Most western leaders have given Russian President Vladimir Putin the cold shoulder while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised to visit Moscow on May 10.

Besides Zeman, those known to be planning to travel to Moscow include Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and North Korea's Kim Jong-Un, as well as the leaders of India, South Africa, Mongolia, Cuba and Vietnam.

Czech leftwing Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Monday that Zeman's words were not "adequate to the statement made by the U.S. ambassador" and asked the president for a "more professional approach to foreign policy."

Information for this report came from The Associated Press and AFP.

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