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Office of the Spokesman
April 23, 2004


Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
With La Prensa Grafica's Alex Aillón

April 23, 2004
Washington, D.C.

MR. AILLÓN: Mr. Powell, good morning. It's an honor to be here with you this morning. Let me start with an obligatory question for the Salvadorian people. How important it is to the government of the United States and to the countries of the coalition that El Salvador maintains a presence, a military presence, in Iraq after it completes the current assignment, which ends at the end of June? How important, really, is to the coalition that we maintain our forces in Iraq after that term?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, first of all, let me say that the El Salvadorian troops, the Salvadorian troops are doing an absolutely terrific job. They are performing humanitarian work and peacekeeping work and your people should be very proud of how they have handled themselves. And it is really a first-class military unit that you have sent over there.

It is not what they are doing for the United States or doing for the CPA. It is what they are doing for the Iraqi people, a people who have been oppressed for so many years, and my friends in El Salvador know about oppression. So these people were oppressed for so many years by Saddam Hussein and he's been removed, but now they need help. They need help to establish the right conditions for democracy. I hope that El Salvador will be able to keep troops longer, but the commitment they made was through the end of June and I'm pleased that they're going to meet that commitment. Some of our friends in the region have decided they had to bring their troops home and I'm pleased that El Salvador decided that, no, we will stay and we will meet our commitment.

MR. AILLÓN: Right now, the Salvadorian troops are under Polish command. Do you believe, Mr. Secretary, that putting Salvadorian troops under Polish command could cause some problems in the battalion? I mean, because under the Spanish, under the Spanish command, at least the troops share the same language as well as cultural similarities with their leaders. It would not be the same with the Polish. Do you think, will it cause problems, maybe in some case of emergencies, because these problems?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm sure there will be some language difficulties that will have to be worked out, and we'll have to make sure that there are people who can translate for the Salvadorian troops and for the Polish troops. But I wouldn't think this is a difficult or insurmountable problem. The Polish division was in charge of that overall sector in the first instance. And so I don't think this is going to be a significant problem.

MR. AILLÓN: Can we -- can we expect next month that more participation from another countries of the United Nations? The Administration of the United States is going to ask more participation in this process of transition in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I think that in the weeks ahead, you will see an interim government created where Iraqis get sovereignty of their own country back. We are anxious to give sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. We don't want to stay there in the current position that we are in now where we are running the country. We want Iraq to run the country. And we are asking for the U.N. to help us make this transition. Ambassador Brahimi of the U.N. has provided us a plan. We think it's a good plan. And with that plan, we will get a new U.N. resolution. And in the very near future, responsibility for the country will be given back to the Iraqi people.

We'll stay there to help. We will need troops after we return sovereignty to help with the security situation. And as the El Salvadorian troops are doing, to help with the humanitarian situation and to perform peacekeeping duties.

So we are anxious to see the international community more involved. We hope there will be more troop contributors after there is a new UN resolution and after sovereignty has been returned to the Iraqi people.

MR. AILLÓN: What can you tell to the people of Salvador, who right now have some relatives, loved ones in Iraq, supporting the international coalition? What can you tell --

SECRETARY POWELL: First, I would say, be proud of what they are doing. They are performing very well. They have gained a fantastic reputation among the coalition. I'm a soldier, I know. And I hear from the American commanders out there. "These Salvadorians are really, really good. They're good, they're tough, they know what they're doing, they're performing great work." So be proud of what they are doing.

Two, know that what they are doing is important and noble. They're not wasting their time. They're doing something that is important for people who are in need, the Iraqi people.

And three, know that the United States deeply appreciates this contribution to this peacekeeping effort. And we hope that every one of those young soldiers gets home safely. And when they get home, they will speak proudly of what they have done.

MR. AILLÓN: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POWELL: You're welcome.

(end transcript)


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