Contact Me By Email

Atlanta, GA Weather from Weather Underground

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Rice to skip key ASEAN talks, may be viewed as snub by region - Yahoo! News

Rice to skip key ASEAN talks, may be viewed as snub by region - Yahoo! News Rice to skip key ASEAN talks, may be viewed as snub by region

Thu Jul 7, 4:58 AM ET

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will not attend a key Southeast Asian meeting this month, officials said amid warnings that the move could be viewed as a slight by the region's leaders.

Rice had told Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers that she could not make it to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in the Laotian capital Vientiane in late July due to a clash of schedules, regional diplomats said.

But some officials had linked her skipping of the trip to concerns in Washington that the region was not pushing enough for democratic reforms in military-ruled Myanmar.

As this would be the first time in about two decades that a US Secretary of State is not participating in the annual ASEAN talks, some ASEAN leaders may perceive it as downgrading of US participation in the region's most important diplomatic event.

The meeting includes a July 28-29 post-ministerial dialogue between ASEAN and its key trading partners, notably the United States, European Union, China, Japan and Russia, as well as an ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the only official security meeting in the Asia-Pacific region.

Rice, who is expected to visit Africa during that period, would be represented by her deputy Robert Zoellick, the former US Trade Representative and an old ASEAN hand, to the meetings.

Unlike her predecessor Colin Powell, who maintained a personal touch in relations with his ASEAN counterparts, Rice has delegated much of the work in the region to Zoellick.

Her top priority in Asia is the Korean nuclear crisis.

She leaves this Friday for a six-day trip to China, South Korea and Japan and will likely discuss possible options if North Korea fails to return to multilateral talks aimed to end its nuclear weapons program.

The July 8-13 trip would be the second to northeast Asia in some three months.

"The fact that she will go to Asia and talk about North Korea demonstrates that this is the key number one priority in the region for the administration," said Derek Mitchell of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Because you would think that Rice would go to ARF, symbol of our engagement in Asia, but she is going over there this month really to talk about North Korea," said the former Pentagon official responsible for Asian affairs.

The six-party talks among the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and China aimed at wooing Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid have been stalled since June 2004.

Karen Brooks, a leading architect of US policy toward Asia during both the Bush and Clinton administrations, warned there could be "unintended consequences" of Rice's decision, including a belief that the United States was ignoring the region, where it has vast investment, trade and security interests.

"Such a decision would not be intended as a signal that 'We don't care.' But, be that as it may, that's the way it is going to be interpreted," Brooks said.

In an apparent bid to assuage regional concerns, Rice will break up her upcoming north Asian trip with a visit to Thailand to gauge tsunami reconstruction progress there. She would fly from China to Thailand on Monday before proceeding to Japan and South Korea.

Earlier, both the United States and the European Union indicated that they might boycott ASEAN meetings if Myanmar is allowed to chair the grouping, which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Some ASEAN members, as well as the grouping's western partners are opposed to the outcast regime taking on such a role, with Myanmar scheduled to take over the ASEAN helm from Malaysia at the end of 2006.

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong shrugged off concerns last week when there were intense speculations that Rice would skip the ASEAN meeting.

"ASEAN is a very deeply secure portfolio. There is no big controversy there except Myanmar, which has to be played out in its own way," he told AFP in Washington.

"So if you are a portfolio manager and have multiple portfolios, you go to the area that really give you sleepless nites, not areas which do not disturb your sleep."

No comments:

Post a Comment