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Prime Minister of Singapore Vows to Remain Tough on Terror - 2004-05-06

The Prime Minister of Singapore has vowed to remain tough on terrorism in Southeast Asia, which he says is a crucial region in the global war on terror.

Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong wound up four-days of meetings in Washington with an address Thursday to the Council on Foreign Relations.

The title of his speech was "Beyond Madrid: Winning Against Terrorism."

"My perspective is formed by our own experience in Southeast Asia, which post 9/11 has emerged as a major theater for terrorist operations," he stated. "In December 2001, Singapore arrested 15 people belonging to a radical Islamic group called the Jemaah Islamiyah."

Mr. Goh said that Singaporean authorities arrested 22 more Jemaah Islamiyah members in August 2002.

The Prime Minister added that Islamic militancy, itself, is not new to Southeast Asia. "[What] Our investigations revealed was this: the existence of a trans-regional terrorist brotherhood of disparate Southeast Asian groups linked by a militant Islamic ideology to each other and to al-Qaida," he said.

Mr. Goh said that he believes the United States has the capacity to lead the worldwide battle against terrorists and he added that he sees Iraq as a key battleground.

He warned, though, that the issue of U.S. involvement in Iraq should not be a pawn of domestic American politics, as the United States prepares for a presidential election. He added that friends and allies, like Singapore, will not support the United States if, in his words, the United States "departs unceremoniously from Iraq." "This is now no more a Republican battle or Democratic battle," he said. "It is America's prestige which is at stake in the world. Right or wrong, you [United States] are in this already. You've got to make sure the outcome, which is one that Muslims will support and one in which the world will applaud, will be the outcome eventually from Iraq."

The Singaporean leader added that he thinks the United States has not taken enough steps to adequately dispel Muslim anger.

"I am aware of the various measures that the United States has taken to try to win the Muslim mind, such as setting up radio and television stations to broadcast alternative views of U.S. policies to the Middle East," he added. "The real issue is political policies, not public relations."

The Asian leader recently traveled to Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain and has also met with Middle Eastern leaders in Singapore.

"I found them determined to fight the ideology that feeds the Islamic terrorists through educational reform and other means," he noted. "I am encouraged by these signs and am trying to initiate a dialogue between Asia and the Middle East, to share experiences and forge understanding."

Mr. Goh said he hopes that Muslims in Southeast Asia can help in the ideological battle against Islamic extremists, by setting the example that not all Muslims automatically resort to violence.