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Next EU presidency hopes for stronger ties with US, ex-Soviet states

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The Czech Republic, which assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) at the beginning of next year, hopes its six-month term will lead to "stronger" relations with both the US and ex-Soviet Union countries, including those in Central Asia.

This was stated by Milena Vicenova, the Czech ambassador in Brussels, while outlining her country's priorities as it takes over the EU presidency from France on 1 January.

"It is important we bring these countries closer to Europe," she told reporters Tuesday.

She utilized the occasion, organized by the Brussels-based European Policy Center, to propose the idea of holding an informal meeting between incoming US President Barack Obama and the heads of the EU member-states.

"We are proud it will be up to the Czech presidency to start the first contacts with the next US administration," she said.

"We intend to invite Mr Obama to Europe, and we would be very happy if this meeting could take place in Prague," said Vicenova, one of the few female ambassadors in Brussels.

Usually, the EU presidency takes part in the annual summit between the two entities, representing the 27 member-states of the bloc.

EU and the US host the summit on alternate years.

Based on rotation, the United States is supposed to be the host next year.

The EU-US summit is expected to coincide with a NATO summit, which Obama will attend in early April on the French-German border at Strasbourg and Kehl.

This will be discussed with the new US administration, which takes office on January 20, the ambassador added.

Europeans will be looking at Obama in particular to be more enthusiastic than the outgoing Bush administration in the key area of climate-change.

The Czech Republic agreed to base a US anti-missile shield on its territory, a move that irked Moscow.

The Czech leadership is expected to be congenial in promoting constructive dialogue and regulatory cooperation between business and decision-makers on both continents.

The EU has close economic and commercial relationship with the United States. European companies are the top foreign investors in most American states.

Earlier this month, America's EU ambassador Kristen Silverberg had advocated a spirit of transatlantic community.

At the G20 meeting held in Washington, leaders of the two largest economies and largest financial markets discussed the complex causes underlying the financial crisis.

Tackling "obstacles" that "prevent Europe from fulfilling its economic potential" will be one of the priorities of the Czech Republic's EU presidency, says its top official in Brussels.

Vicenova was hopeful that at the end of the six-month presidency, "no one will think that we, Czechs, are Euro-skeptics."

She acknowledged taking over the presidency at a time for Europe and the rest of the world "will be a real challenge."

The Czech presidency will focus on '3 Es'--the economy, energy, and external relations.

She promised a "thorough analysis" of the EU's energy supplies.

It will also "concentrate" on breaking the impasse on the stalled EU reforms treaty.

She sent a positive signal to the EU membership aspirations of states in West Balkans.

Her country would open negotiations with Turkey.

However, she could not give any assurance other than saying that "our role will be that of the honest broker and facilitator."

She praised the outgoing French presidency for its "prompt, effective and efficient" response to the global financial crisis.

Vicenova vowed that the Czech government will be dedicated to its role, despite being its first EU presidency. "I also hope that we will be prepared for the unexpected--a task facing every EU presidency," she added.

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