Balkenende pays farewell visit to Bush
Looking back as well as looking ahead, pats on the back and cautious criticisms; those were the ingredients of the farewell visit that Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen paid to US President George W Bush.
By Reinout van Wagtendonk*
The President thanked the Netherlands for its cooperation during his term in office, specifically praising Dutch efforts in Afghanistan:
"You represent a great country, a good friend of the United States of America. I want to thank you and your folks for helping the people of Afghanistan realise the
blessings of liberty."
After the meeting at the White House, which lasted more than an hour, Mr Balkenende said a number of issues were discussed, including how NATO could persuade more of its member states to supply troops for the mission in Afghanistan.
"We did not discuss the issue in terms of putting pressure on member states, but we did talk about the fact that many countries subscribe to the same values, including human rights, democracy and working toward a better development of the people there. We reiterated that the situation in Afghanistan is not only to do with Afghanistan itself, but also has a global dimension which means it's important that countries participate".
President Bush is in his last year in office. Mr Balkenende characterised Dutch relations with the United States as "strong", but also noted there were differences of opinion. He discussed Dutch objections to circumstances at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. Another difference of opinion involves the Kyoto protocol on climate control, which the US refused to sign. Mr Balkenende urged the President to "make progress" in taking measures to combat climate change.
Foreign Minister Maxime and his US counterpart Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met last night. Afterward, Mr Verhagen said he had addressed the human rights issue in connection with the war on terror and Guantánamo Bay, and that the US was really listening to concerns on the issue:
"They are sincere. They realise that Guantánamo Bay should be closed, exactly for this reason. At the same time, it is also clear that the penalization and prosecution of people who have committed terrorist acts must be guaranteed. Regarding this issue, I'm thinking about possibilities within the framework of the International Criminal Court to have terrorists acts included in the list of crimes against humanity. Discussions on this subject are ongoing. But one thing is clear: you cannot lock people up without due process".
The United States has refused to join the International Criminal Court.
At the weekend, Prime Minister Balkenende will attend the Bilderberg Conference, an annual venue for the exchange of ideas between political leaders and business leaders. In the next few days, Minister Verhagen will meet the security advisors of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to anticipate possible changes that the next president will make to US foreign policy.
* RNW translation (gsh)
9 June 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]