- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

President Obama promised Monday that the United States would seek to halt the increasing threat of piracy off the Horn of Africa.

Mr. Obama also praised the military's successful efforts to rescue merchant Capt. Richard Phillips, who had been held hostage there for several days by pirates.

“His safety has been our principal concern,” the president said in his first remarks in public on the five-day standoff, which ended Sunday with Capt. Phillips' release. Mr. Obama spoke at an unrelated Transportation Department event involving the economic stimulus initiative.

In a sharp warning to increasingly brazen pirates operating off the lawless coast of Somalia, Mr. Obama said: “I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks.”

One day after Navy SEAL snipers killed three pirates holding Capt. Phillips and took another pirate into custody, Mr. Obama said he knew the cargo ship captain's safe return was a “welcome relief” to the man's family and crew.

”I'm very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation,” Mr. Obama said. “I share our nation's admiration for Captain Phillips' courage and leadership, selfless concern for his crew.”

Earlier, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said piracy would be a top priority for the administration in the weeks ahead, even as he called the dramatic rescue a “textbook” success story.

“I think we're going to end up spending a fair amount of time on this in the administration, seeing if there is a way to try and mitigate this problem of piracy,” Mr. Gates told about 30 students and faculty members at the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va., according to a U.S. military news service.

He added: “All I can tell you is, I am confident we will be spending a lot of time in the situation room over the next few weeks trying to figure out what in the world to do about this problem.”

Mr. Gates said the pirates were between 17 and 19 years old - raising the possibility that the one survivor now in U.S. custody could be tried as a juvenile. That means he could potentially be charged with less harsh crimes than if he were an adult.

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