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Laos-US relations look to growing ties: US diplomat

Relations between Laos and the United States have been transforming towards growing ties, a US fellow and former US ambassador to Laos has noted.

Ambassador Charles B. Salmon, Jr ( left ) addresses the meeting at the East West Centre.

Adjunct Senior Fellow of the East-West Centre based in Hawaii, Charles B. Salmon Jr., made the comment during a recent meeting with Asean media during a reporting tour to the US to cover the Special US-Asean Summit held in California from February 15-16.

The tour, which was sponsored by the US Department of State, ran for 10 days before concluding on February 20.

Mr Salmon, a former US ambassador to Laos from 1992-1993, said visits to Laos by then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton followed by her successor John Kerry and the planned visit by President Barack Obama later this year indicated that relations between the two countries had transformed towards deepening ties.

“I think we recognise the growth of Laos demographically but also in terms of the economy and I think there is a desire by Laos to play a much more prominent role within Asean, manifested by its chairmanship of the summit this year, and also with other nations in the region,” he said.

“I a m very encouraged by the progress in the relationship.”

In 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clin ton paid an official visit to Laos making her the first US Secretary of State to visit the country since the Lao People's Democratic Republic was proclaimed on December 2, 1975.

Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry paid an official visit to Laos. His visit was made ahead of the planned visit to Laos by US President Barack Obama scheduled for September this year when Laos, as the Asean Chair this year, will host the Asean Summ it and meetings with dialogue partners.

President Obama would be the first US President to visit Laos in Laos-US history. He is also scheduled to visit Vietnam for the first time later this year.

“I look forward to visiting Vietnam for the first time in May and to becoming the first US president to visit Laos when it hosts the East Asia Summit in September,” he told reporters at a press conference held shortly after the two-day summit at the Sunnylands estate in California.

Since he took office and prioritised the US's Asia engagement strategy, President Obama has been noted as the US president who has made the most visits to Asian countries compared to previous presidents.

It appears to be obvious that the US's active engagement with Laos, despite strengthening bilateral ties, is also part of the US's engaged preparations for working with Laos as the Asean Chair on the agenda to be discussed at the September Summit.

Relations between the US and Laos have developed in recent years after a period in which observers said they had been halted.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said during his trip to Laos in December last year that a new chapter in relations between Laos and the US is being drawn up.

“This partnership on issues vital to both of our nations spans inclusive economic growth, health, education, and environmental protection,” he said.

Mr Kerry told reporters during his trip to Laos last month that the United States is considering increasing financial aid to Laos to help the country with the clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) dropped on Laos by US warplanes during the Indochina War.

The US has provided financial aid to Laos in various fields amounting to more than US$45 million a year, according to the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Although the Lao and US governments still have different views on some issues, former ambassador Salmon was optimistic that such issues could be worked out over time.



By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update February 24, 2016)

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