- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

NEW YORK — Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday offered to send additional troops to Iraq, becoming the first world leader attending the U.N. General Assembly to publicly embrace a U.S. request for help.

Mrs. Arroyo, one of the strongest backers of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, also urged the United Nations to play a bigger role in rebuilding Iraq.

“We would like to send more [troops], and we hope that the United Nations can be more involved,” Mrs. Arroyo told a small group of reporters at the Waldorf-Astoria in midtown Manhattan.

The Philippines has contributed about 95 military observers and personnel for Iraq.



A greater U.N. involvement, she said, would “enable us to send more,” possibly by helping to fund an expanded Philippine deployment.

“We have budgetary limitations, but if the U.N. would be involved, then the U.N. could pick up some of the bill.”

She emphasized that her government felt a U.N. mandate would be preferable but not mandatory for the Philippines to comply with the U.S. request for international peacekeeping forces.

“We would be willing to send more depending on what’s needed and what our budget can afford,” she said.

Her remarks were in sharp contrast to the speeches by many world leaders at the U.N. podium this week, who criticized the United States for going to war without explicit backing of the world body.

Since the attacks of September 11, the Philippine-U.S. relationship has been especially close.

U.S. troops have been invited for military training exercises and to offer logistical support to Philippine troops battling Muslim rebels in the southern parts of the country.

Mrs. Arroyo also stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue in the battle against terrorism.

A predominantly Catholic nation, the Philippines has invested in the majority-Muslim south, rebuilding mosques, courts and other infrastructure.

She credited the intervention of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who also leads the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and other Muslim nations in Southeast Asia for helping forge a peace with two of the three main Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines.

“We are in a cease-fire now,” she said. She expects more talks with the rebels in October, after an OIC summit in Malaysia.

Mrs. Arroyo is on a five-day visit to the United States and Europe.

She is traveling with her new defense minister, Eduardo Ermita, who served as the chief negotiator with the rebels. His predecessor resigned last week, a repercussion of the July attempt by elements of the Philippine military to stage a coup.

President Bush is scheduled to visit Manila next month.

“This will be a chance for the Philippine people to show their friendship,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

The Philippines will assume the Asian seat on the U.N. Security Council in January, replacing Pakistan for a two-year term.

She indicated that the Philippine policy would be one of consensus building, rather than taking sides on fractious issues.

By stressing collective security, a multilateral approach and the rule of law, Mrs. Arroyo said, U.N. member states can help reinvent the organization for changing times, rather than declare it irrelevant.

“We must not lose sight of our common goals: the fight against terrorism and the peace and stability in Iraq,” she said.

“I believe we have more in common than not. I see the role of the Philippines, especially when we become members of the Security Council, is to find common ground and bring us all together on the issue of Iraq.”

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