President Obama in Belgium next week

Summary

US president Barack Obama will arrive in Belgium next Wednesday, 26 March, to visit EU and Belgian leaders and possibly the American war cemetery in West Flanders

US president might visit US military cemetery in Waregem

US president Barack Obama is travelling to Europe on an official visit that will take in the European institutions in Brussels on Wednesday, 26 March. He is due to meet EU Commission president José Manuel Barroso, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and Belgium’s prime minister Elio Di Rupo. Obama will also visit Nato headquarters.

When the visit was announced back in January, it was expected that officials would focus on attempts to hammer out a US-EU trade deal. But the growing crisis in the Ukraine has shifted the conversation to the worsening relations between Russia and the Western powers.

Speculation is growing that President Obama will also fit in a visit to the US military cemetery in Waregem, West Flanders. Waregem is the smallest of eight First World War US military cemeteries in Europe, with 368 graves. It is the only American cemetery in Belgium where a ceremony is held every year on Memorial Day.

The US embassy has not confirmed the visit, although Waregem’s mayor Kurt Vanryckeghem told the press that an official delegation had visited the site to determine whether it was feasible. “People were very enthusiastic,” said the mayor. “I think there is a 90% chance that he will visit our town.”

The organisers of the cycle race Dwars door Vlaanderen, which also takes place on 26 March, are less enthusiastic since it means that the course of the 69th edition, which trails through West and East Flanders, may have to be changed.

This visit will be the first time that Obama has come to Belgium since he was first elected and has called for a number of exceptional security measures. The EU District will be cordoned off by police during the visit. Although authorities are not releasing the exact route that will be taken from the airport by the president’s convoy, these roads will likely be closed to all traffic while the Obama’s armoured limousine, nicknamed “The Beast”, is on its way, escorted amidst a convoy of 40 vehicles.

Mark Storella, who is replacing American ambassador to Belgium Denise Bauer while she recovers from surgery, said that the embassy is “particularly pleased with the excellent co-operation with the Belgian police. They have been extremely professional”.

Before coming to Belgium, Obama will attend a summit on nuclear safety in the Hague. After Brussels, the President flies to Rome, where he will meet the Pope.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, is due to visit Brussels on 31 March to hold meetings with European leaders Van Rompuy and Barroso.

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