Bernard Bot: Europe isn't smug on terror - we just don't call it a war

If there are Americans who think Europeans are complacent then let me set the record straight
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The Independent Online

Do the United States and Europe still believe in each other? As President George Bush prepares for his second term the European public is seeking reassurance that the US still regards Europe as an indispensable partner and that, therefore, it supports European integration. The President's remarks about the importance of revitalising the Middle East peace process and the need to work with Europe constitute a promising start.

Do the United States and Europe still believe in each other? As President George Bush prepares for his second term the European public is seeking reassurance that the US still regards Europe as an indispensable partner and that, therefore, it supports European integration. The President's remarks about the importance of revitalising the Middle East peace process and the need to work with Europe constitute a promising start.

In return, Americans rightly ask for proof that Europe is ready to share the burdens and responsibilities imposed by the global fight for freedom and democracy. The sensible thing to do is to act in concert.

If there are Americans who think Europeans are complacent about the terror threat, then let me set the record straight. Hundreds of Europeans have died in terrorist attacks - on and after 11 September. Just because many Europeans prefer to speak of a "campaign" rather than a "war" against terrorism does not mean they believe there is nothing to fight for.

How could Europeans be complacent about terrorism? Europe, like the US, is faced with extremists whose ambition is to destroy democracy, fundamental freedoms and human rights. In the totalitarian utopia of the jihadists, there would be no place for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or equality between men and women. We would enter a new dark age.

In combating terrorism we must protect precisely those fundamental freedoms extremists seek to destroy. The people of the Netherlands are still reeling from the brutal murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh. But Europeans of the Islamic faith, ordinary people with jobs and families, are as horrified as anybody else.

Terrorism is also seeking to block progress in Iraq. All of Europe's governments are united in their ambition to help Iraq to regain its status as a respected member of the international community. The European Union is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in improving essential services such as water, sanitation, education and health. The EU will train Iraqi police and prosecutors and help to finance the protection of the United Nations mission in Iraq. We believe such measures will help Iraq to get back - and stay - on its feet. At the same time, we help to relieve the burden for the US. Nor should we forget that there are some 19,000 troops from 15 European Nato countries, including my own, currently in Iraq as part of the multinational force.

Europeans are also at the centre, both militarily and financially, of efforts to bring long-term stability to Afghanistan, and to bring peace to Sudan. European forces are bearing the brunt of Nato missions in the Balkans and have been involved in UN operations in Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Eritrea.

As for Iran, European diplomatic efforts have resulted in an agreement that commits Iran to a full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment activities. What matters now is implementation by Iran, to be verified by the IAEA. Once the agency gives the green light, the EU will begin negotiations on a trade agreement. What happens in Iran could very well determine whether the entire Middle East region will or will not resist the temptation to enter into a nuclear arms race.

We should also give high priority to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US and the EU must insist that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza is taken in the context of the road-map and towards a two-state solution. This also means that the withdrawal should not lead to a transfer of settlement activity from Gaza to the West Bank. We should strengthen, not weaken, the Palestinian Authority. Mr Arafat's death marks the beginning of a crucial transition period. Clearly, the EU, the US, the Arab world and others now have a strong interest in assisting the Palestinians.

These are all make-or-break issues, the outcome of which will be decided in the next four years. If we handle them with care, we have a chance of changing the strategic context. We can increase security and prosperity for US and EU citizens, as well as for people in the broader Middle East.

"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?" Let the Joni Mitchell lyric inspire us to inject a new sense of purpose into our transatlantic partnership. The future is not written in stone. It is ours to shape.

The writer is Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, and EU President until January 2005

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