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Bush, Dutch PM Discuss Fight Against Terrorism - 2004-03-16


U.S. President George Bush and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende say the international community must remain strong in its resolve to fight terrorism following last week's attacks in Spain.

Following their Oval Office meeting, Prime Minister Balkenende said he and President Bush have a clear understanding about the need for cooperation in fighting terror. "It is important that world society, the international community, stands shoulder-to-shoulder and shows its solidarity to fight against these terrible attacks," he said.

Last week's bombing in Spain came on the eve of an election, which led to the defeat of the center-right party of Jose Maria Aznar, who was one of the Bush administration's strongest European backers on the war in Iraq. The new Socialist leader says he will bring home Spain's more than 1,000 troops from Iraq by June 30, unless the United Nations approves their presence.

Asked if he thought the Madrid bombings influenced Spain's vote, Mr. Bush said terrorists will kill innocent people in order to try to get the world to cower. "These are cold-blooded killers. They will kill innocent people to try to shake our will. That's what they want to do. They will never shake the will of the United States. We understand the stakes," he said.

The president noted that terrorists have not only killed in Spain, but in the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia as well. He said he will continue working with friends to bring those terrorists to justice.

Asked by a Dutch reporter about calls in the Netherlands to pull its troops out of Iraq, Mr. Bush said that is an issue for the Dutch government. He said Prime Minister Blackenende will make what he called the appropriate decision, as both men agree that a free Iraq is essential to a peaceful world. "The prime minister has got issues at home that he will deal with, but there is no doubt that he understands the stakes and the historic opportunity with which we are faced," he said.

Prime Minister Balkenende did not commit to keeping Dutch troops in Iraq, saying it will be an issue of parliamentary debate. "I think it is very good to look always to the situation of the Iraq people and the international struggle against terrorism. Therefore, it is so important that countries are working together and they can draw the same lines. That is very important, but at this moment, that has nothing to do with the decision-making, as far as the situation after the first of July is concerned," he said.

President Bush said it is essential that allies remain side-by-side with the Iraqi people as they begin the process of self-government and help both Iraq and Afghanistan develop into free societies.

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