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Gates Praises El Salvador for Iraq Efforts

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador, Oct. 2, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met briefly with the Salvadoran president and minister of defense today discussing shared security interests in the region and the country’s continued participation in peacekeeping operations worldwide.

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From left: U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Charles Glazer, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, President Elias Antonio Saca and Minister of Defense Otto Romero hold a press conference at the presidential palace during the secretary's trip to Latin America, Oct. 2, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“The United States and El Salvador traditionally have enjoyed a close defense relationship. El Salvador plays an important role in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations worldwide,” Gates said at a brief news conference with Salvadorian President Tony Saca after the meeting.

Gates praised El Salvador’s participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom, calling the country “one of the most faithful coalition partners.”

“We believe that it’s important for all of us to be successful in having a stable Iraq and one that can govern itself, one that is not a home for terrorists,” Gates said. “I think the government of El Salvador, under President Saca, understands that and sees it is in Salvador’s national interest to ensure that there is success in Iraq.”

Saca pledged continued support during the news conference. He told reporters that Salvadoran support is based on the nation’s history. “We suffered from terrorism and we have supported this international coalition. We have supported the United States. The support will not change.”

The secretary expressed condolences to the families of the five Salvadorans who have been killed in Iraq. El Salvador has provided one battalion of troops for nine rotations. The most recent deployed in August.

Gates said the battalion has performed “admirably” with coalition forces.

The leaders of the two countries also discussed opportunities for a closer security relationship, both bilaterally and multinational, Gates said.

“As I visit close allies in the region this week, I am reminded of our common perspective and shared approach to the challenges we face,” the secretary said. “I look forward to our two nations working closely together to enrich our mutual understanding and to deepen our security relationship.”

Gates also responded to a reporter’s question on Blackwater, the security company accused of using excessive force iwhile protecting U.S. State Department officials in Iraq. The secretary said he read a report on the issue on his way to Latin America.

“The report makes a number of recommendations on how we can strengthen our oversight of contractors working for the Department of Defense in Iraq,” he said. “I haven’t had an opportunity to talk with the deputy secretary or anyone else in the department about this, at this point, but I must say that the recommendations from the group look very reasonable to me and I anticipate that we will move forward toward trying to implement them.”

Gates' visit to El Salvadorfor is the first stop on a five-day, five-country Latin American trip. The secretary had a similar visit planned this summer but rescheduled after he was needed at policy meetings in preparation for a July 15 report to Congress on progress in Iraq.

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
U.S. State Department country background note on El Salvador
Photo Essay

Related Articles:
Gates Launches Latin American Trip

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