Daily Press Briefing
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QUESTION: The Czech Republic Foreign Minister spoke outside and said that after he spoke with the Secretary he was left with the impression that the Secretary would speak with the President today and that he hoped -- no, he believed -- there would be some positive move about the status of the Czech Republic regarding the visa waiver status. Is there anything planned?
MR. BOUCHER: Visa policy was one of the issues that was discussed today in our meetings with the Czech interim Foreign Minister. They did talk quite a bit about the war on terrorism, about the European Union membership and what it means for Czech Republic and also about things like the situation in the Middle East. Certainly, we've expressed our strong support and gratitude for Czech policy in the global war on terrorism, in the global war on terror.
On the subject of visas, the question was what we can do for Czech and other travelers coming to the United States, and I have to point out the Visa Waiver Program itself is a -- has a series of statutory standards that a nation would have to meet. Membership in the European Union, for example, doesn't qualify one automatically for participation. There has to be a refusal rate of less than 3 percent, a machine-readable passport, safeguards against fraudulent use of passports -- a whole number of criteria that have to be met and then various decisions and notifications have to be made.
So that is much more of a, I would say, almost a mathematical qualification than people might like, but that's the way it is, and that's the way the countries in the program have gotten into the program.
But the Secretary did mention that he and other colleagues of the Administration had been looking at various ways to speed up, make more efficient, our visa program, while maintaining all the essential safeguards that we've put in place since September 11th. As you know, since September 11th, we've gone to higher rates of interviews, better databases, better checking, more thorough vetting of certain kinds of candidates and things like that.
But we're looking at how we can maintain those kind of safeguards, and yet make the process easier for some applicants, for many applicants. And we think that we've taken a number of steps; we're looking at further steps we might take in that regard.
QUESTION: So would I be right in thinking that generally the United States is looking to improve the overall situation, but isn't looking to do anything specific for the Czech Republic?
MR. BOUCHER: To the extent that some of these things can be applied and made effective in the Czech Republic, we'll be glad to do so and we'll look at ways to do so. But there need to be some overall decisions as well on how to make the processing more efficient and more considerate, even as it maintains all the essential safeguards.
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