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Obama Meets with Philippine President Arroyo

U.S. President Barack Obama met Thursday at the White House with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo. Mr. Obama stressed the importance of U.S. ties with the Philippines.

Those ties go back years. The Philippines was a U.S. colony during the first half of the 20th century and there was a major American military presence there until 1992.

President Obama says that now, the Philippines is a vital link between the United States and East Asia.

"We are very grateful of the strong voice that the Philippines has provided in dealing with issues in Asia - ranging from the human rights violations that have for too long existed in Burma, to the problems that we are seeing with respect to nuclear proliferation in North Korea," said President Obama.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with President Arroyo, Mr. Obama made specific mention of the leading role the Philippines plays in ASEAN - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He went on to note that the Philippines will host a major non-proliferation conference next year.

"And so we are going to have a busy agenda together, working to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, improving the multi-lateral partnerships in Asia that can create greater security and greater prosperity for all countries," said Mr. Obama.

President Obama also cited efforts by the Arroyo government to bring peace to the conflict-ridden southern Philippines.

The United States has poured millions of dollars into the region since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington - money that has been used for education, telecommunications and infrastructure projects.

President Arroyo said the aid has helped stabilize the situation in Mindanao, where separatists from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been seeking a separate Muslim homeland.

"This assistance of the U.S. has gone a long way in helping us to achieve what we have been able to achieve in the peace process in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, and also in our fight against terrorism," said President Arroyo.

While the major American bases in the Philippines were closed years ago, the United States still maintains hundreds of soldiers in the southern Philippines on rotation as part of joint counter-terrorism exercises.