WASHINGTON - Saying the relationship between the United States and the Philippines was "valued" and "important," U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi welcomed Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the U..S. Capitol Building Thursday (early Friday in Manila).
"President Macapagal Arroyo is a well-respected leader internationally and a successful leader in the Philippines," Pelosi said.
Ties between the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic nation, and its former colonial ruler have see-sawed for decades. The United States is the Philippines' biggest trading partner with bilateral trade at about $17 billion last year.
"Sixty years ago, Filipino soldiers helped in World War Two. We made promises then about honoring the service that they gave to the peace effort, to the war effort and the peace effort," Pelosi said. "That was rescinded in the Forties. And, I am very pleased that in our recovery package in January, that we passed legislation recognizing our obligation to them."
Over 250,000 Filipinos served alongside the U.S. military during World War II. There are about 4 million people of Filipino descent in the United States, the largest Asian ethnic group there after the Chinese.
During the meeting, Pelosi planned to discuss several issues with Arroyo, including counterterrorism.
Currently, the United States has hundreds of troops, including special forces, in the Philippines' southern Mindanao region to counter rebels from the Abu Sayyaf, a radical Islamic group linked to al Qaeda and the regional Jemaah Islamiah.
The soldiers are banned from combat, but provide training and logistics support to Philippine troops.
"We look forward to a discussion with the President about counterterrorism, about economic growth, which has been very successful in the Philippines, and about climate change," Pelosi said.
Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change because of the high economic activity along its long coastlines, and its heavy dependence on agriculture, forestry and other natural resources. Pelosi's meeting with Arroyo comes in advance of international talks on climate change scheduled for December in Copenhagen.
President Arroyo, who signed a guest book outside of Pelosi's office, said she was looking forward to the meetings.
"Thank you very much for welcoming me here, Speaker. (I am) looking forward to a good discussion with you," Arroyo said.
Arroyo is the first Southeast Asia leader to visit the United States since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in January. Later in the day, she was scheduled to meet with Obama where the two were expected to discuss how the two countries can work together to fight terrorism and discuss global warming.