The Nation


4th Thai-US Strategic Dialogue

Thai FM discusses Myanmar, border with US Secretary of State

File photo : EPA

File photo : EPA

Washington DC - Thailand, the United States and Myanmar will set up a tri-partite cooperation scheme to provide assistance to Myanmar in various areas, notably to the people along the border, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

The idea was discussed with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a panel session and the details would be further worked out during the 4th Thai-US Strategic Dialogue on Thursday, he said.

The USAID and Thailand International Development Cooperation Agency would be the main agencies running the scheme with Myanmar, he said.

Thailand has already provided assistance to Myanmar in many fields including education and health, he said, noting that the US could contribute more assistance through the existing channels.

During the meeting with Clinton, Surapong said he asked Washington to lift all sanctions against Myanmar and provide more assistance to refugees who have been living along Thai borders for several years.

Clinton explained to him that the US could not lift all sanctions at once due to the complexity of the legal procedures and Surapong said he urged the US administration to consider issuing an executive order to allow more relaxation of the sanctions.

The Thai foreign minister also asked the US to fully support reforms in Myanmar to help the country move towards democracy and reconciliation.

"The US should emphasis the importance of both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi equally, as both are key components to reform in the country," Surapong told reporters after the meeting with Clinton at the State Department.

Cooperation between Thailand and the US on Myanmar would be part of the strategic cooperation and would be put into a memorandum of understanding to be issued in the near future.

On bilateral matters, Clinton asked the Thai government to speed up its decision to join the US sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told President Barack Obama when they met in Bali on the sidelines of the Asean summit last year that her cabinet would consider the PSI and make an announcement about joining the scheme soon. However, her cabinet has yet to consider the issue. Surapong told Clinton that his government was still studying the PSI.

Surapong said he was working on arranging a visit between Prime Minister Yingluck and President Obama, if possible, within the second half of this year.

On regional issues, Clinton said briefly to reporters before the meeting with Surapong that the US would like to see Thailand played a leading role in the region to enhance peace, security and prosperity.

In the meeting, she voiced concern over the situation in South China Sea where China has with nations in Southeast Asia. The US wanted to see guarantees of freedom of navigation and right of free passage in the area.

As the Asean's coordinator with China, Thailand would work with Beijing on the Asean plan to introduce a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea to replace the Declaration of Conduct, which has been used for some 10 years, Surapong said.

Surapong said he did not raise the issue of U-Tapao with Clinton as the issue was politically too sensitive.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) put in a request for the use of the facilities at U-Tapao airbase for its weather research aircraft to the previous government.

However, NASA's use of Utapao has now become mixed up with an idea by the US Navy to use the airbase for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Allegations have been made that Yingluck's government might exchange the use of U-Tapao for a US visa for ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Surapong said Thaksin has nothing to do with this matter. The foreign ministry might withdraw the US proposal from cabinet consideration to end all accusation and political difficulty. "We might lose potential interest from the project but now that it has been politicised so much, I don't want to carry on," he said.

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