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U.S., France Unite Against Terror

From left: EU Justice CommissionerAntonio Vitorino, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner during the Informal JHA Council in Scheveningen, the Netherlands, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2004. Ashcroft and EU justice ministers agreed to improve the trans-Atlantic flow of intelligence information to help track down terrorists and prevent attacks.
AP
The United States and France agreed Thursday to cooperate more closely on terrorist cases and combating organized crime, signing new deals which both sides said signaled better relations.

French Justice Minister Dominique Perben said he also received fresh assurances from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft over the fate of three French nationals being held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"I asked Mr. Ashcroft to obtain clearer information" about their detention, Perben told reporters. "Ashcroft said he would examine their situation as quickly as possible."

Authorities have struggled for months to bring home French nationals detained at the U.S. military prison. They are being held on suspicion of participating in terror-related activities.

Four other prisoners held at Guantanamo were returned to France in July.

Perben and Ashcroft signed two accords during Thursday's talks, which were held in the margins of a U.S.-EU meeting on terrorism.

Ashcroft said the deals, which update a U.S.-French extradition treaty and facilitate the transfer of terror suspects, were a sign of stronger ties between the two countries following disagreements on how to fight terrorism.

He said the closer cooperation "will allow us to engage in the fight against a wide variety of crimes, not just terrorist offenses, in a way that is up to date and expeditious."

France and the United States have been at loggerheads over how to tackle terrorism and the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"These agreements are a powerful reaffirmation that we work shoulder to shoulder in defense of freedom and the rights of citizens," Ashcroft said. "These are historic agreements, both for what they say and what they symbolize."

Perben said the agreement improved cooperation between Paris and Washington in fighting crime and hunting down suspected terrorists.

"Collaboration in justice and security has always been good," Perben said, describing Thursday's pact a "symbol of our exemplary cooperation."

The United States is expected to sign similar deals with other EU governments in the coming months.

The Netherlands was the first to sign new deals with the United States Wednesday to better coordinate anti-terror investigations and prosecutions.

The accords will enable trans-Atlantic video conferencing so that authorities can interview suspects abroad. They also set out guidelines for tracking suspect bank accounts, and enable investigators to travel abroad to conduct inquiries on foreign soil.