17 March 2004
AMSTERDAM — In a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in Washington on Tuesday, US President George Bush did not ask the Netherlands to extend its peacekeeping mission in Iraq.
Instead, Balkenende said after meeting with Bush in the White House that the US president understood the Dutch decision-making process and that the Netherlands must first discuss the security mission.
The Cabinet has not yet made a decision about the extension of the mission beyond 1 July this year and the Parliament had demanded that the Prime Minister refrain from making promises to Bush during his two-day visit.
Balkenende said Bush did not directly ask the Netherlands to maintain its military presence in Iraq, but the President thanked Balkenende for the deployment of about 1,300 troops to southern Iraq and indirectly urged the Netherlands to extend the mission.
After being confronted with a GFK survey indicating that a majority of Dutch nationals want the nation’s troops to return home, Bush said: “I would ask them to think of the Iraqi citizens who don’t want people to withdraw because they want to be free”.
“And I would remind the Dutch citizens that Al Qaeda has an interest in Iraq for a reason and that interest is that this is a front in the war against terror,” the President said.
Moreover, Bush said he appreciated that “his Dutch friend” had so quickly returned to Washington after Balkenende’s first official visit to the White House in September 2003, public news service NOS reported.
Back in the Netherlands, main opposition party Labour PvdA urged the Cabinet on Tuesday to end the Dutch peacekeeping mission in Iraq. The demand was quickly dismissed.
PvdA leader Wouter Bos said the Dutch involvement in Iraq has proceeded well, but that it was time to bring the troops home. He denied the decision was linked to the Madrid bombings last week.
Balkenende said that the PvdA was speaking ahead of a political debate that must still occur and a spokesman for his ruling Christian Democrat CDA party said the PvdA demand would mean giving in to terrorism and frustrating the creation of democracy in Iraq.
Both Bush and Balkenende spoke about last week’s Madrid bombings and the war against terror. After the meeting ended, the CDA leader said the international community “must fight shoulder-to-shoulder against these types of horrible attack. We have the same goals”.
Meanwhile, Balkenende travelled on to New York after his conversation with Bush and met with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ben Bot — who also attended the meeting with Bush — and Defence Minister Henk Kamp were also present at the meeting, news agency ANP reported.
The possible extension of the Dutch mission in Iraq was not broached in the meeting with Annan, but the UN chief said the 30 nations which have sent troops to the Middle Eastern nation are performing important work.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said both Annan and Balkenende discussed the desirability of a new UN resolution on Iraq to spell out the role the UN would play in Iraq after the US hands power over to the Iraqis on 30 June.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news