Washington – The United States may consider Southeast Asia as an important front in its global war against terror. Yet, the country’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, apparently doesn’t consider the region important enough to warrant her personal attention. According to reports from Washington, Dr Rice may not turn up in Laos for two key Asean meetings next month.
Instead, speculation is rife that she will send her deputy, Mr Robert Zoellick, to the Asean Post-Ministerial Conference and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in Vientianne. By not turning up, Dr Rice will be breaking with a tradition of having the US Secretary of State attend the meetings.
For her to stay away in her first year as the top US diplomat could even damage US-Asean relations at a time when there are concerns about China’s growing influence in the region, some analysts said.
Mr Dana Dillion, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said: "Asean likes Zoellick, but if he can’t get Rice to attend the ARF, it will demonstrate that she doesn’t care much about Southeast Asia."
Some analysts told The Straits Times that her no-show would simply reflect the new priorities of Amerca in the post-911 world.
Mr Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, said: "With Iraq a catastrophe, Europe in flux, Iran busy making nukes, and Pyongyangcausing loads of trouble, why does Rice want to waste her time in Vientianne?"
But Mr Dillion said: "Secretary Rice could turn out to be a very bad choice for American policy in Asia."
*Rice’s no-show in Laos will be seen as a snub (The Straits Times, June 22)