Thursday, August 02, 2007

U.S. in East Asia

A few days ago, I was chatting with an East Asian diplomat stationed in Washington who seemed surprised that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be skipping the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Regional Forum meeting in Manila later this week.

The ARF brings together 27 foreign ministers representing the 10 Southeast Asian nations, and 17 other governments with security interests in the region. Rice instead will travel to the Middle East, where she will hold discussions on stabilizing Iraq in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and visit Israel and the West Bank. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will represent the U.S. in Manila.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed regret that Rice would not be in Manila, but said that she was "prioritizing" talks on Iraq and Middle East peace. "I don't think it has to do with the importance of the business necessarily, but of the timing," he said of the ARF meeting.

I reminded the East Asian diplomat that this was not the first time American officials in general, and Secretary Rice in particular, had been "prioritizing" the Middle East at the expense of East Asia. Rice cancelled a trip to the ARF meeting in 2005, the first time a U.S. secretary of state had skipped the talks since they were first held in 1994.(read the rest)