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Powell Says Philippine Handling of Iraq Kidnapping a 'Serious Disappointment' - 2004-07-22

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Philippines' withdrawal from Iraq in the face of the kidnapping of a Filipino national was a "serious disappointment." Mr. Powell held talks with Bulgaria's foreign minister Thursday and hailed that country for standing fast against the kidnappers of two Bulgarians.

The Bush administration's displeasure over the Philippines' withdrawal from Iraq was already well-known. But Mr. Powell's comments at a press appearance with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy were his strongest to date, and he would not rule out the episode having lasting impact on U.S.-Philippine relations.

The secretary heaped praise on Bulgaria for reaffirming its intention to keep its nearly 500-member security contingent in Iraq despite the kidnapping of two Bulgarian truck drivers in Iraq, one of whom was confirmed killed on Thursday.

Mr. Powell said the Bulgarian government and people "stood fast" and would not be intimidated by the kidnappers. He contrasted that with the Philippines' month-early withdrawal of its 51-member Iraq contingent and suggested it was a factor in the subsequent abductions of other foreign nationals in Iraq.

"It is a serious disappointment to us that the Philippine government felt it had to take this action because, in effect, kidnappers were rewarded for kidnapping," he said. "They were paid off. They made a demand, a political demand against the Philippine government which the Philippine government, a sovereign government, decided it had to meet. And when you start meeting demands of kidnappers, I think you're going down a very bad and slippery slope which incentives kidnappings."

Mr. Powell said he was pleased that the Filipino was released by his abductors but said "a very high price" was paid in the policy position the Manila government took.

Asked about harm to bilateral relations, the secretary said it was a disagreement that would have to be "worked out eventually."

A spokesman said discussions on the matter were under way within the administration involving, among others, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Frank Ricciardone who is in Washington for consultations.

For his part, Foreign Minister Passy said Bulgaria was appreciative of U.S. support in its ongoing hostage drama, and said only solidarity among the Iraq coalition partners will deter the kidnappers.

"No country will succeed alone. And in this case we, of course, had the choice," he said. "Bulgaria is a small nation of eight million people and we had the choice of whether to have two hostages, or eight million and two hostages. And we know that in this difficult choice, we accepted our principles and our values and we shall not open the door to anybody to blackmail our principles and values."

Mr. Powell said the talks here also covered the case of five Bulgarian medics who, along with a Palestinian doctor, are facing death sentences in Libya for allegedly infecting hundreds of children with the AIDS virus five years ago in a research project.

The United States has called the prosecution unjustified and the secretary said he told Mr. Passy it will continue to assist Bulgaria "in every way" until the case is resolved.

The secretary also welcomed Bulgaria's offer of military facilities to U.S. forces as part of an envisaged restructuring of the American troop presence in Europe, but said the Pentagon has made no decisions on the matter as yet.