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21 July 2009

Asean Regional Forum: Clinton to sign security treaty in Phuket

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) when she attends a regional security forum being held in Thailand's resort-island of Phuket, reported Inter Press Service (IPS).

The TAC, which came into force in June 1976, has been a cornerstone of Asean's policy to promote peace and stability in a region that had, since the 1960s, been torn apart by wars, military occupation and civil strife.

Washington's decision to finally come on board means that Canada is the only country among those who attend the ARF that is not part of the TAC, which was opened for non-South-east Asian countries to join in 1987.

“The United States supports a strong Asean that can provide real results for the people of the region. We were the first Dialogue Partner to name a permanent ambassador for Asean, ensuring that our lines of communication are open and our efforts closely coordinated,” writes Clinton in an article in the Bangkok Post Tuesday.
“This is a significant move. It means that the United States is serious about ASEAN; it is serious about peace and security in Asean,” Vitavas Srivihok, director-general of Asean affairs at the Thai foreign ministry, told IPS.

Clinton is due to arrive in Thailand Tuesday for a regional security conference expected to focus on the North Korean nuclear threat, Myanmar's rights record and terrorism, an AFP report said.

US officials said a key thrust of her debut appearance at the ARF will be how to crank up the pressure on North Korea to return to multilateral nuclear disarmament talks after its missile and nuclear weapons tests.

They said Clinton will meet one-on-one with her counterparts from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia -- which along with the United States were North Korea's partners in six years of disarmament negotiations.

North Korea bolted the talks after the United Nations censured its long-range missile test in April. The showdown with the international community took another turn for the worse when it staged a nuclear test in May.

Pyongyang's foreign minister has declined to attend the security forum, instead sending a roving ambassador to the grouping of 27 nations including the United States and European Union.

The US State Department has been coy on whether Clinton would meet any North Korean delegates in Phuket.

The forum will also face the perennial challenge of Myanmar, which has sparked international outrage by putting pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on trial over an incident in which an American man swam to her lakeside house.

Myanmar, Asean's most troublesome member since joining the bloc in 1997, showed its defiance earlier this month by refusing to allow UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit the opposition leader when he visited the country.

Clinton is also expected to discuss the region's economy and joint action on tackling swine flu, and will hold an unprecedented meeting with counterparts from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to discuss health and environmental issues concerning the Mekong river.

ARF will also tackle terrorism after deadly suicide blasts Friday at two hotels in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, a key Asean state that Clinton visited in February on her first overseas tour as chief diplomat.

During her five-day visit to New Delhi and Mumbai, Clinton said she had reassured her hosts that President Barack Obama would not only maintain, but deepen a "strategic partnership" launched under his predecessor George W. Bush.

Deals were struck paving the way for billions of dollars in exports of civilian nuclear reactors and military hardware to India, but differences of opinion remain between New Delhi and Washington over climate change.



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