Wednesday, July 22, 2009

United States Upgrades Ties With ASEAN

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has moved to upgrade U.S. relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At a regional forum with ASEAN foreign ministers, she again pressed member country Burma to release imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The American relationship with ASEAN had sagged under the Bush administration. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - preoccupied with other issues - missed two of the previous three ASEAN forums that have traditionally been obligatory events for U.S. chief diplomats.

But Clinton came to the ASEAN meeting with an large interagency team from the Obama administration and declared here that "the United States is back in Southeast Asia."
Clinton signed ASEAN's Treaty on Amity and Cooperation, a document committing participants to peaceful settlements of disputes and non-interference in domestic affairs, which had been shelved by the previous administration. She also said the United States will name a permanent ambassador to the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta and seek what she termed a "comprehensive partnership" with host country Indonesia.

The Obama administration began a review of U.S. Burma policy that includes a near-total trade ban on that country. But it has put the re-examination on hold, pending the outcome of the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces a prison term for violating terms of her long-time house arrest.

Clinton has expressed concern about possible military cooperation between Burma and North Korea, and in a Bangkok television appearance she said the expulsion of Burma from ASEAN would be "an appropriate policy change to consider."

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