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Rumsfeld Holds Talks with Bangladeshi Officials - 2004-06-05

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has held talks with leaders in Bangladesh, which a U.S. official says were expected to include discussion of sending Bangladeshi troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The stop was part of a brief visit to Asia, aimed at discussing the war on terrorism with American allies in the region.

Bangladesh is the largest contributor of peacekeeping troops to United Nations missions around the world.

After meeting with top Bangladesh military and civilian officials, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld would not say whether he specifically asked the Dhaka government to dispatch troops to help keep the peace in Iraq, saying only that the United States welcomes troop contributions from any country willing to send them.

But a U.S. defense official who asked to remain anonymous told reporters before the meetings, American officials were hoping Bangladesh would consider contributing troops to the Iraq mission, and that the issue would be discussed during Secretary Rumsfeld's brief stop here.

The Bangladesh government has repeatedly made clear it would only dispatch troops to Iraq, if the peacekeeping mission is put under a U.N. mandate and control, and Foreign Minister Morshed Khan repeated that view after Saturday's talks.

A day earlier, thousands of people protested in Dhaka against the Rumsfeld visit, and expressed strong opposition to dispatching troops to Iraq.

A recent public opinion poll here, in what is one of the world's most populous Muslim nations, put anti-American sentiment at about 60 percent.

Still, U.S. officials emphasize the secretary of defense's 12-hour visit to Bangladesh was intended to recognize this country's contributions to peacekeeping missions around the world, and its support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.