Biden praises Mongolia's democratic development

GANBAT NAMJILSANGARAV - Associated Press

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived Monday for a brief visit in Mongolia, which he called a shining example of democratic development.

Biden praised Mongolia for successfully carrying out presidential and parliamentary elections after making a peaceful transition to democracy in the early 1990s. The small, landlocked country had been a Soviet satellite for decades.

"In the last 20 years Mongolia has captured the imagination of the world by its remarkable transition to democracy," Biden said.

Biden also praised Mongolia's military contribution in Afghanistan and Iraq after meeting Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold and President Tsakhia Elbegdorj.

Mongolia is eager to develop its mineral wealth but needs outside help, with companies from neighbors China and Russia, as well as from the United States, Australia, Japan and Canada looking to develop projects.

Last month, Mongolia picked U.S. mining giant Peabody Energy, China's Shenhua Group and a Russian-Mongolian consortium to jointly develop the keenly sought Tavan Tolgoi coking coal deposit in the Gobi Desert.

The companies have agreed to build a 600-megawatt power station, coal-to-liquid fuel and coking fuel plants as well as north and southbound railways for the project, according to a government statement.

Tavan Tolgoi in the southern Gobi desert is one of several big projects Mongolia has been debating as it strives to protect local interests while tapping foreign expertise needed to develop the resources. One-third of the country's 2.7 million people live in poverty.

While Biden received a warm welcome, there was a small group opposed to his visit and his motorcade was greeted by protesters holding posters saying "Yankees keep your hands off Mongolia" and "Hi Joe, No Nuclear Waste, Go Home."

There have been reports in the capital of secret discussions between the Mongolian, Japanese and U.S. governments on storing nuclear waste in Mongolia. The Mongolian government has denied the rumors.

Biden was to stay six hours in Mongolia after arriving from China. The final stop on his Asian tour is Tokyo.