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US Expresses Disappointment Over Philippine Decision to Pull Troops Out of Iraq - 2004-07-13

The United States expressed disappointment Tuesday over a statement by the Philippine government that it will pull its troops out of Iraq "as soon as possible" because of the kidnapping of a Filipino national there. U.S. officials say such action would send the wrong signal to terrorists.

The Bush administration is pressing the Philippine government for a clarification of its statement Monday that it intends to withdraw its 51-member troop contingent from Iraq early because of the kidnapping of a Philippine truck driver.

A militant group in Iraq has threatened to kill the 46-year-old Filipino man, Angelo dela Cruz, unless the Philippine troops leave the country by July 20.

Manila authorities had previously said the troops would remain, as originally planned, until August 20.

Monday's statement by Philippine Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis to the Arabic television channel al-Jazeera that the force will be removed "as soon as possible" has prompted U.S. concern. It was the subject of a meeting in Manila Tuesday between President Gloria Arroyo and U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it was still unclear what the Philippine statement to al-Jazeera will mean in terms of a withdrawal date, and that discussions with the Manila government would continue.

He said it has long been U.S. policy is not to negotiate with, or provide benefits, to terrorists, and that suggestions to the contrary send the wrong kind of signal.

"We're disappointed to see statements like this," he said. "As you know our general policy has always been against offering any sorts of concessions to terrorists because we do think it sends the wrong signal."

The spokesman said the onus should be kept where it belongs, on the kidnappers. He said there is no excuse for kidnapping and murder and the threats made against Mr. dela Cruz, and he should be released immediately.

Mr. Boucher said Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the kidnap case by telephone with Mrs. Arroyo on Sunday and had praised the Philippines' cooperation in the war on terrorism and its troop commitment in Iraq.

A senior diplomat told reporters the Philippine deputy foreign minister's subsequent remarks came as a surprise to U.S. officials.