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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Praises Mongolia on Visit

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia -- U.S. President George W. Bush, buffeted by unrelenting criticism at home over Iraq, on Monday saluted Mongolia's "fearless warriors" for helping his embattled effort to establish democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

"Mongolia and the United States are standing together as brothers in the cause of freedom," Bush told Mongolian troops and lawmakers in a speech at the Government House.

After two days in China partly aimed at nudging that communist country toward greater freedoms, Bush's stop here -- the first by a U.S. president -- was meant to showcase the first communist country in Asia to turn toward democracy. Mongolia discarded communism 15 years ago; it holds democratic elections and allows Western-style freedoms.

"You are an example of success for the region and for the world," Bush said. "As you build a free society in the heart of Central Asia, the American people stand with you."

Bush spent about four hours in this land of vast deserts, plains and mountains on the last leg of an eight-day, four-country swing through Asia that included stops in Japan, South Korea and China.

After the 13-minute speech, Bush ventured just outside the capital to sip fermented mare's milk and listen to the traditional Central Asian art of throat singing.

"Really special," he commented. Bush left Ulan Bator later in the day and was due back at the White House on Monday night.

Visiting what is known proudly there as the coldest capital in the world in wintertime, thick pollution hung over the city as his motorcade passed barren mountains, soldiers at attention and thousands of curious but mostly impassive locals.

He was greeted at the Government House by flower-toting children in traditional Mongolian robes and soldiers in bright red, blue and yellow overcoats.

"Such an honor to be here," Bush told Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar. They met inside a ger, a traditional white tent, in a courtyard of the government building.

Bush played to Mongolia's pride in its military by publicly recognizing two soldiers who gunned down a suicide truck bomber before he could strike a mess tent in Iraq. Mongolia's force of about 160 in Iraq makes it, with its population of just 2.8 million, the third-largest contributor per capita to the coalition.

"U.S. armed forces are proud to serve beside such fearless warriors," Bush said.

The president's warm reception in the country eager for U.S. assistance and attention brought some relief from the unrelenting and acrid debate at home about his policies in Iraq. The Mongolian people, Bush said, "claimed their freedom 15 years ago, and are now standing with others across the world to help them do the same."