US to join East Asia summit

Asean figures higher on Obama administration's priorities

The United States has decided to join the East Asia Summit (EAS) leaders' forum in Indonesia next year, according to sources in Washington.

Kurt Campbell, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific affairs, briefed diplomats from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on July 15 in the US capital about Washington's desire to be a part of the Asean-led EAS, which was founded in 2005.

The forum comprises the 10 Asean members, along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and New Zealand. At their meetings, they discuss global issues impacting the region such as terrorism, climate change, energy, and food security.

The decision capped years of American ambivalence towards Asean and its role in constructing a new regional community. It came as the Asean foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Hanoi next week to deliberate on a new regional architecture.

Meanwhile, senior Asean officials who met in Hanoi yesterday, also agreed to recommend to their leaders to issue an invitation to the US and Russia to join the EAS next year.

Russia has been persistent in wanting to join the EAS. It was invited as a special guest by host Malaysia at the inaugural meeting in 2005.

The source, which asked not to be identified, said US President Barrack Obama will also attend the EAS next year when Indonesia is the host. He has twice postponed his trip to Indonesia, scheduled for March and July.

The Obama administration has been criticised by the US media for not taking his planned trips to Indonesia seriously. To make up for this, there has been flurry of diplomatic activities both in Washington and the region this past week.

Laos Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith visited the US and held talks with US counterpart Hillary Rodham Clinton. Kurt met with the Asean envoy. Within the region, Under-secretary for Political Affairs William Burns visited Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Jakarta to update on the US policy on Asean.

The Obama administration has given high priority to strengthen relations and broaden cooperation with Asean. Last year, the US acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, becoming the 27th signatory.

The source said Clinton is expected to announce the US decision to join the EAS during her trip to Hanoi to take part in the region-wide security group, Asean Regional Forum.

The sources said that Obama also has plans to invite Asean leaders to Washington DC as his guests in September. At first, they are scheduled to meet Obama in New York as part of the second Asean-US Leaders' Meeting. They met last November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' meeting.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to visit Hanoi to attend the second Asean-Russia Summit when Hanoi hosts the gathering of Asean government leaders at the end of October.

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