Bush thanks Mongolia for Iraq help

United States President George Bush on Monday became the first sitting US president to visit Mongolia, in a show of support for a fledgling democracy that has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush said in remarks released by the White House that US forces were proud to fight alongside the “fearless warriors” of Mongolia, once home to fearsome 13th century conqueror Genghis Khan.

The US president, on a lightning three-hour visit here as he wrapped up a week-long trip to Asia, was to hold talks with Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar and urge the remote country to battle corruption.

Hours before his arrival, armed Mongolian police and military lined the road from the airport, sometimes only barely visible in the morning haze that cloaked the world’s coldest capital Ulan Bator.

In his speech, Bush expressed strong support for Mongolia’s young democracy, encouraged more economic reforms, and pledged to hammer out a US aid package to reward Mongolia for good government and free-market policies.

“You are an example of success for this region and the world,” he said.

“And I have come to tell you: As you build a free society in the heart of Central Asia, the American people stand with you.”

Bush also thanked Ulan Bator for sending over 100 soldiers to support US forces in Iraq and roughly half that number to bolster international stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan.

“In Iraq, Mongolian forces have helped make possible a stunning transformation” from Saddam Hussein’s rule to early signs of democracy, said the US president, who has come under fire at home over the war.

Bush was also to acknowledge local political concerns, noting that Mongolia ratified the UN convention against corruption this year and urging Parliament “to pass the anti-corruption legislation needed to implement that treaty”.

Mongolia, a democratic state since 1991, is stuck between China, the world’s most powerful communist regime, and the Russian Federation, which is undergoing its own turbulent transition to democracy.

The vast but sparsely populated country, with more than 30% of its 2,8-million population nomadic or semi-nomadic, is also clamoring for recognition as an independent sovereign nation on the international stage.

Mongolia, ruled by China for more than 300 years until its independence in 1911 and then heavily reliant on the Soviet Union, also wants to reach out to the United States to avoid over-dependence on its powerful neighbours.

The United States has said it is providing Mongolia with $18-million of military aid this year to train Mongolian officers at US military schools, for equipment and to refurbish an old Soviet-era training area for peacekeeping exercises.

The US and Mongolian militaries also take part in an annual peacekeeping exercise called “Khannquest”. - AFP

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