RP-US Ties and the New Iraq; (Remarks Delivered before the Asia Society of the Philippines, Tower Club, Makati, August 26, 2004.)

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Byline: Ambassador Francis Ricciardone

MAGANDANG hapon sa inyong lahat. Thats my Tagalog, all of it. (Laughter)

Thank you very much Executive Director Ray Dempsey, Asia Society Trustees, esteemed colleagues in the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen, friends:

It is certainly an honor to address the distinguished members of the Asia Society and our guests. It is a moment of both challenge and opportunity in world history and in Asian-American relations. It is just the right moment, I think, and the Asia Society is just the right setting for a conversation today on international cooperation in a cause that I believe will define our time: Gobal support for the transition of democracy in Iraq.

Thank you for affording me this opportunity, my first discussion of this subject with such a group since I recently returned to the Philippines, as Ray has mentioned, from six months service in Washington and Iraq. In fact, during that period I temporarily re-assumed the former title that Ray had mentioned, as Special Coordinator for the Transition of Iraq. Secretary Powell charged me to organize a new United States Embassy to represent my country to the new Interim Government of Iraq.

Our Embassy in Baghdad, Im sorry to say, has replaced our Embassy in Manila as third-ranking US Embassy in the world, in terms of the number of people. I was torn, because Id like to think of us in Manila as being the best embassy among all our American embassies in the world. Perhaps we can still aspire for that honor, but we have to concede, hands down, the honor to our colleagues in Baghdad of serving under the most challenging conditions and probably the most important work that the United States is doing overseas today. With our colleagues in the Kabul Embassy as well, I must say. Certainly, we have a much more pleasant time of it here in Manila as well. We fight to be assigned to Manila now.

My own experience with Iraqi patriots over a couple of decades has always sustained my optimism for the future of that ancient land. It also sustains my faith in the larger cause of defeating global terrorism by spreading freedom and democracy. Iraqis have a glorious past, and they have commensurate ambitions for their future. They are proud and they have guts. They now have strong friends around the world, and they are unstoppable. Iraqi is a pivotal front in that cause, which we pursue with great cost to American, Iraqi and allied, lives and treasure. So, of course, it does impact our relations with other countries including the Philippines.

Before examining Iraq in greater details, I do want to dispose at the outset of the question that I know people will pose of US-Philippines cooperation regarding Iraq.

The decision to withdraw the spirit of and effective Philippine contingent from Iraq at the demand of a small gang of terrorists was a setback for a cause, which, I believe nonetheless, the Philippines and we do continue to share. It did deeply disappoint us, the Iraqis, and the coalition of countries supporting Iraqis in realizing their aspirations for freedom, for democracy, for security, for prosperity. Nevertheless, as Secretary Powell has said, we know that our hundredyearold relationship as friends and allies will continue. We certainly are not looking for ways to retaliate or punish friends of long-standing. Such an approach would be beneath the maturity to which both our Presidents have brought our relationship. Our important common interests and values certainly endure.

In particular, we continue to work together against international terrorists active in the Philippines. Far more needs to be done, but we have seen meaningful progress. In fact the United States government has publicly commended the Philippines recent success in convicting seventeen Abu Sayyaf terrorists. And the Philippines police and Armed Forces have cracked the leadership itself of another kidnap-for-ransom gang on the United States Foreign Terrorist Organization list, the Pentagon Gang, who have blasphemously masqueraded as proponents of a religious cause. …