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Bush thanks Belgium

Published on 07/04/2004

7 April 2004

BRUSSELS – US President George W Bush wrote to Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt to congratulate him both for stationing F-16 fighter aircraft in the Baltic states and for his continued efforts in the fight against terrorism, La Libre Belgique reported on Wednesday.

Bush wrote to Verhofstadt on 29 March, but the letter has only now come to light, the newspaper continued, adding that Verhofstadt had replied to the US President.

Belgium sent the F-16s to patrol the Baltic states’ airspace last week to coincide with the formal admission of the three former soviet republics- Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – into the Nato military alliance.

In his reply to Bush, Verhofstadt stressed efforts the European Union has taken to combat terrorism since the 11 March train bomb attacks in Madrid, which left 191 people dead and over 1,400 injured.

He also pointed out that Belgium recently pledged to double its military presence in Afghanistan to 600 men.

Analysts say the exchange of letters is evidence of a continuing improvement in relations between Belgium and the US.

Relations hit an all-time low when a Belgian prosecutor demanded that Bush stand trial for war crimes under the country’s controversial ‘universal competence’ law, which gave Belgian courts the right to try war crimes suspects whatever their nationality and regardless of where their alleged crimes were committed.

At the height of the standoff between Washington and Brussels, the United States suspended funding for a new Nato headquarters in Brussels and even today it still has not given its official approval to the plan.

However in 2003, Verhofstadt’s government modified the law so that it only applied to Belgian citizens or crimes committed on Belgian soil, a move that calmed Washington’s ire but sparked angry criticisms from human rights groups.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Belgian news