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 December 8, 2007

Surin calls for more US engagement in region

Deeper US engagement with the Association of South East Asian Nations would boost regional security and may even help bridge the gulf between the

West and Islam, Reuters quoted the next Asean chief as saying on Thursday.
Surin Pitsuwan, who becomes Asean Secretary-General from January, said in Washington the 10-nation regional grouping was "the fulcrum of the power

base in the region and the U.S. has been absent and absent conspicuously."
"The US is the only power in the region that could provide a sense of security and a sense of stability, but it needs to be present more and needs to be

consistent," said Surin, a Harvard-educated former Thai foreign minister.
Decisions this year by US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to skip Asean gatherings were seen as serious "missed

opportunities" in the region, he said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
"I would hope that you will consider to re-engage now that we are reorganizing ourselves," said Surin, referring to an Asean charter signed last month

that calls for a human rights body and economic integration.
In addition to touting the 567 million people in Asean countries as an attractive market, he held up members Malaysia and Indonesia as modern, moderate

and democratic Islamic societies that could help bridge the "most dangerous divide in the world today"
"The road to reconciliation with the Muslim world from the West may run through Southeast Asia," said Surin, a 58-year-old Muslim and political

heavyweight in Thailand.
Asean 's long-awaited charter was overshadowed by an international outcry over military-ruled Myanmar's ongoing bloody crackdown on pro-

democracy protests.
On Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, Surin stuck to Asean 's policy of noninterference in members' affairs -- an approach that separates Asean

from the United States and others, who have slapped sanctions on junta members and associated firms.
"Sanctions tend to strengthen the hands of the powers that be," he said. "Sanctions have not worked," he added and repeated Asean 's offer to help when

requested by Myanmar.

More on Asean


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