- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

Christmas in Iraq

The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador spent Christmas in Iraq with Salvadoran soldiers, who get little recognition outside their country for their service in the U.S.-led coalition.

“I know it is hard to be away from your families at Christmas,” Ambassador H. Douglas Barclay told soldiers of the Cuscatlan Battalion in the city of Kut. “It is a privilege to be here in your company and to be able to share at least a moment during this holiday.”

El Salvador has dispatched 380 soldiers through seven troop rotations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although the battalion’s mission involves humanitarian aid and not combat patrols, five Salvadoran soldiers have been killed.

Mr. Barclay, who is ending his tour in El Salvador after three years, said he could not depart his post without visiting the troops in Iraq.

“I can assure you that all the members of the Cuscatlan Battalion have won the hearts of the Iraqi people, and you have brought honor to El Salvador around the world,” the ambassador said.

“I know that you are aware that all Salvadorans feel extremely proud of the work you have carried out. Salvadorans know very well that freedom is not free.”

Mr. Barclay was referring to El Salvador’s long struggle for democracy against military dictatorship and communist rebels. A 12-year civil war that cost 75,000 lives ended in 1992.

The ambassador told the Salvadoran soldiers that their work will help stabilize Iraq.

“You should also feel very proud of the role you are playing to assure a more stable and peaceful Iraq,” he said. “You have earned the respect of the entire coalition and the deep appreciation of the Iraqi people. El Salvador has been an outstanding member of the coalition in the Iraqi Freedom Operation for the last three years.”

Mr. Barclay added that the troops have done their work “bravely and effectively in reconstruction and humanitarian tasks.”

The ambassador was accompanied on his visit by Salvadoran Defense Minister Otto Romero Orellana, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jorge Alberto Molina Contreras and National Assembly members Ernesto Antonio Angulo Milla and Carlos Rolando Herrarte Rivas and Monsignor Fabio Colindres Abarca, the Salvadoran military’s Catholic priest.

They spent Christmas Eve with the troops and on Christmas Day attended the opening of a school the soldiers built.

Korean visit

South Korea’s new foreign minister assured top U.S. officials this week that his government is in close agreement with Washington on issues ranging from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to the future wartime command of South Korean forces.

Song Min-soon, minister of foreign affairs and trade, told Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England that relations between the two countries “have been going in the right direction,” the South Korean Embassy said.

The embassy said Mr. Song and Mr. England agreed on the need to “eliminate uncertainty on the time of transferring” to South Korea the wartime command of its troops, which have been under a combined command led by a U.S. general since the Korean War in the 1950s. U.S. military officials have said the command could be transferred to South Korea by 2009. Peacetime troop control was transferred in 1994.

“The two sides agreed to strengthen collaboration between Seoul and Washington in solving the North’s nuclear issue,” the embassy said.

Mr. Song on Wednesday dined with Washington scholars, former U.S. ambassadors to South Korea and former U.S. commanders of American forces in South Korea.

He also was scheduled to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and members of Congress.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@

washingtontimes.com.

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