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Powell Regrets Resignation of OAS Secretary-General - 2004-10-08

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday he regrets that Organization of American States Secretary-General Miguel Angel Rodriguez has had to resign because of corruption charges dating to his term as President of Costa Rica. He discussed the issue Friday with the President of El Salvador, Antonio Saca.

The corruption scandal, centering on alleged payments to Mr. Rodriguez from the French telecommunications company Alcatel, had been brewing for several days and the former Costa Rican President's resignation from the OAS post Friday was not unexpected.

At a joint press appearance after a meeting here, both Secretary Powell and Salvadoran President Saca expressed regret over the turn of events, with Mr. Powell calling Mr. Rodriguez a man of skill and determination who the United States had supported for the OAS post.

The former Costa Rican President, who had held the OAS post for only two weeks after succeeding Colombia's Cesar Gaviria, will be replaced on an interim basis by the OAS Assistant Secretary-General, Luigi Einaudi of the United States.

President Saca said he would like to see Mr. Rodriguez succeeded by another Central American, and that those countries will be consulting together soon to come up with a candidate.

Under questioning, Secretary Powell said there is merit to the idea but that he is not committing the United States at this point:

"President Saca makes a good case that Central America is deserving of having a strong candidate who is selected to be the next Secretary-General," he said. "President Rodriguez was from Central America, but of course we all have to wait and see what other countries in the Hemisphere believe. And we have to see what candidates come forward. It's important that the OAS have the best-qualified candidate."

Mr. Saca is in Washington for a meeting of Salvadoran expatriates, more than a million of whom are believed to be living in the United States and whose remittances of millions of dollars to El Salvador are a major component of the country's economy.

The Salvadoran leader said he appealed to Mr. Powell for an extension of the legal residency of some 240,000 Salvadorans holding the so-called T.P.S., or Temporary Protected Status, granted because of past natural disasters and political upheaval in El Salvador.

Mr. Powell said the State Department is considering the issue and discussing it with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which now makes policy in that area.

At the same time, he praised El Salvador for its support for the United States in the war against terrorism and especially its efforts in Iraq.

Mr. Powell said the 380-member Salvadoran contingent in the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq has conducted itself with great bravery and done a very good job.