Though Belgium is still reeling from coordinated terror attacks that left 32 dead and some 300 injured last month, the country’s prime minister won’t attend a Monday meeting in Germany with President Barack Obama and four European leaders to discuss joint counterterrorism efforts.
The absence of Charles Michel is being noted after some U.S. lawmakers and analysts asserted that Belgium and other European countries lag behind the United States in terms of the kind of security apparatus needed to sniff out and thwart attacks such as the bombings carried out in Brussels on March 22.
A veteran analyst who has worked directly with western European governments on intelligence matters noted that Belgium has become a major source of jihadists operating in Syria and Iraq, as well as inside Europe.
“It’s not a great look,” said the analyst, referring to the Monday meeting and requesting anonymity to speak candidly. “The optics are really bad for President Obama, for Chancellor Merkel, and for the others. I mean, the Bels are the ones dealing with this most recently and who have a big problem with extremists living there.”
Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of France, Italy and the United Kingdom are part of a group known in diplomatic and security circles as the “Quint,” that “comes together from time to time, sometimes at the head of state level, and other times at lower levels,” an Obama administration official said.
The official said Belgian leaders were not excluded from Monday’s meeting in the German city of Hanover. “The idea for the meeting was to bring together the European partners with whom we work on the whole host of shared challenges, including terrorism,” the administration official said.
Shortly after the Brussels bombings, Obama promised the United States would “do whatever is necessary” to help Michel and his countrymen.
“We have worked closely with Belgian authorities both before and after the Brussels attacks,” the administration official said, “but Belgium is not a part of this particular grouping.”
Sources say there is no push to add Belgium to the “Quint” roster.