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Bush, Dutch PM Discuss Military Cooperation in Afghanistan

U.S. President George Bush and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende met at the White House Thursday for talks that included their military cooperation in Afghanistan. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

The Netherlands is one of the biggest contributors to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and President Bush thanked Prime Minister Balkenende for that support.

"We're engaged in a struggle against ideologues who use murder to achieve their political objectives," said President Bush. "One way to help defeat those folks and marginalize them is to help others realize the blessings of a free society. I appreciate your courage and I appreciate your troops, but the people of Afghanistan appreciate them more."

The Dutch government says it will have between 1,500 and 1,800 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security and Assistance Force through the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters after their Oval Office talks, the president and prime minister said they also discussed close cooperation on fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Prime Minister Balkenende said they talked about global climate change and the need to conclude the latest round of world trade talks.

"We also talked about the European Union," said Prime Minister Balkenende. "And I am convinced that the United States and the European Union share the same values. We talked about it: freedom, human rights and democracy, economic dynamism, sustainable development. And I think that if we work together, we can really make a difference. And I think it is necessary."

In what was likely his last meeting with Mr. Bush as president, Prime Minister Balkenende said he looks forward to continued cooperation with the next American leader. Dutch officials are already preparing for events next year marking the 400th anniversary of the first recorded exploration by the Dutch East India Trading Company around the area that is now New York City.