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NEWS UPDATES 26 August 2010

Obama needs to name new Asean ambassador

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A senior US senator has urged President Barack Obama to quickly name a news ambassador to Asean.

Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, worried that it may take until next year for a new ambassador to be in place, missing a US-Asean summit expected in a few months.

Former president George W. Bush named veteran Scot Marciel as the first US ambassador to Asean in 2008. Obama recently tapped Marciel to become US

ambassador to Indonesia, a key priority for the administration.

"Having named the first ambassador to ASEAN, it is unfortunate that the United States has delayed with naming his successor. I encourage you to act swiftly," Lugar wrote to Obama in a letter.

Lugar pointed out that the 10 nations of ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprised the fourth biggest export market for the United States.

The Obama administration has repeatedly called for greater engagement with Southeast Asia and pledged to attend ASEAN meetings, accusing the Bush

team of neglecting the region due to its preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ernie Bower, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank, faulted the US absence at this week's meeting of Asean trade and commerce ministers in Vietnam.

Bower blamed domestic politics. Obama has struggled to agree on a trade policy with members of his own Democratic Party amid a weak economy that is causing political headaches.

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