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Obama thanks Danish PM for troops in Afghanistan

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March 14, 2011 04:03 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen assured President Barack Obama Monday that Denmark has an unwavering commitment to help the U.S. in Afghanistan.

"We are in this with the long-term perspective," Loekke Rasmussen told Obama at the White House.

He said he visited Danish troops in Helmand province two weeks ago and became convinced more needed to be done to wean the region from its dependence on the narcotics trade. As a result, he said, Denmark has increased assistance for alternative crops in Afghanistan, where the cultivation of opium-producing poppies is a significant part of the economy.

Denmark has more than 700 troops in Afghanistan as well as police and army training teams in Helmand province.

Obama commended Loekke Rasmussen for Denmark's assistance in Afghanistan.

"Denmark is not a large country, but proportional to its population it has made as significant an effort and made as many sacrifices as anybody in helping stabilize Afghanistan," Obama said.

"Denmark is a country that in American terms punches above its weight," Obama said.

Obama said he and Loekke Rasmussen discussed 2011 as the year of transition in Afghanistan as the U.S. and its international allies seek to begin reducing the number of combat troops there.

Both men also agreed that Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi must step down. Obama thanked the Danish prime minister for Denmark's support of sanctions against the Gadhafi regime.

Loekke Rasmussen met with Obama to discuss Afghanistan, the Middle East and energy issues. Obama said the two leaders also expressed support for Japan in the wake of twin natural disasters that have left the country reeling.

The United States is Denmark's fifth largest export market and the biggest outside the European Union. More than 260 Danish companies have subsidiaries in the United States.

Obama praised Loekke Rasmussen for his energy policies, noting that the prime minister has set an "ambitious and impressive program" to rely completely on clean and alternative energy sources by 2050.