Background Briefing in Siem Reap, Cambodia
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right, everybody. We are in Siem Reap, Cambodia for the U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum. In advance of that, the Secretary just had bilateral meetings with the Thai Prime Minister Shinawatra* and with Burmese President Thein Sein. Both of them came in for this U.S. business event, particularly President Thein Sein, who will be speaking at the event. It’s an opportunity for him to encourage U.S. business to come to Burma now that we have eased the U.S. sanctions.
In the meeting first with the Thai Prime Minister, she and the Secretary had a chance to review the outcome of the ASEAN meetings. They also talked about our support for the – for natural disaster in Thailand last year and about continuing to try to work together to develop the U.S.-ASEAN cooperation in the field of natural disasters. The Secretary urged the Thai Prime Minister to consider joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, the PSI, congratulated Thailand for progress it’s made in anti-trafficking, but encouraged continued efforts in that regard.
The Thai Prime Minister raised concerns about money laundering, talked about cooperation that we can do in that area together. And the Secretary asked the Prime Minister to pass along our appreciation for the king’s recent pardon of U.S. citizen Joe Gordon. The Secretary noted that this sends a good signal in the context of freedom of expression and ability to – and those rights within Thailand. That is the report on that meeting.
Moving on the meeting with President Thein Sein, he opened by expressing appreciation for the easing of U.S. sanctions. They had – and said how much they welcome U.S. business to Burma and how much he appreciated being here today and having the opportunity to make that pitch directly.
They had a very full exchange about the importance of appropriate resource management, the role the EITI could play, and the need to ensure that the wealth generated benefits the people of Burma and their national development goals. The President made clear that they are interested not only in being a country involved in the extractive industries but also in having value-added benefit. He noted a couple of examples. For example, they export raw teak, but they don’t currently export finished teak products. They export raw rubber, but they have to import tires. So he wants help getting to that next level of value-added.
He also noted strong interest in development of their information technology sector, particularly connecting some of the remote villages. On the development side, his particular emphasis was on child and maternal health. He also noted that life expectancies in Burma are considerably lower than those of their neighbors, so health very much a priority.
He underscored the progress that he is making, that the government is making, in dealing with the armed groups, noted that of the 11 armed groups in Burma, they have peace agreements now with 10 and that they are continuing to work towards an agreement with the Kachin.
In addition to the back and forth on resource management, the Secretary raised a number of issues. In particular, she raised the situation with the Rohingya, noted that we are prepared to be supportive of help with internally displaced people. In that connection, she expressed concerns about reports that we have 10 UN workers in detention in Burma. She also raised the situation with political prisoners, thanked the government for the recent releases, and again encouraged that all political prisoners be released.
She raised the issue of Burma’s relations with the DPRK and urged them to keep moving towards a situation where there are no military-to-military relations. The President noted – asserted that they have no nuclear relations with the DPRK and that they are continuing to review their military-to-military relations.
And I think that is it. Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Just one thing. Are the – I think the reports are that – originally the reports were that they were 10 UN, and then subsequently I think the UN clarified to say it was 10 both UN and NGO workers. Do you – you said UN. Do you know them to be 10 UN or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We don’t have any direct information here with the travel party. She was just concerned about the reports we’ve seen, the same reports you’ve seen, so she wanted to make sure to put it on his list.
QUESTION: And what did she end up saying? I mean, do you know? Why have these people been arrested or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She simply raised concerns that we are seeing reports that some 10 UN workers have been detained.
QUESTION: Can I just --
QUESTION: And did – sorry. Last one. Did he have any answer about that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He did not respond directly, other than to say that the general situation with regard to the Rohingya had been very dangerous for the country and that they needed continued help and support with IDPs, et cetera.
QUESTION: With the Rohingya, you said she called them IDPs. Is that the term she used or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She said – she – they talked about the situation. He expressed – he talked about how difficult it had been. She offered that if more support was needed with IDPs that we could be supportive.
QUESTION: Okay. So she used that term?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Anything else?
QUESTION: Do you --
QUESTION: Do you know how many political prisoners there are by the U.S. count?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have a precise number here with me, Jane, especially after the recent releases. I believe that our people in our embassy are still working with the Burmese to go through that recent list so that we know how many are left by our own count, but I don’t have a full --
QUESTION: You don’t know whether it’s several hundred, more than 500?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we’re still talking in the hundreds. If that is not correct, I’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: How long was the meeting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: An hour.
QUESTION: An hour?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: It seems --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And in fact, we had to break it up. They were having a --
QUESTION: What was the atmosphere?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Actually --
QUESTION: Sorry. They were having what? You had to break it up, they were --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They were really wonking out together.
QUESTION: What does that mean? I mean, talking about what?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They were really talking seriously about how to take the country forward on its reform goals, on its peace goals, on its investment goals, on its opening goals, and working – what we can do to support that. And it was – their first conversation was in Nay Pyi Taw. They didn’t know each other. This was a conversation between two people who are really committed to this relationship, committed to a reform agenda, and have some progress together under their belts.
QUESTION: But the business leaders who were here for this meeting – did they seek the meeting via State or did State put out the invitation to the business community?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You mean with regard to who was invited? This is the Secretary’s initiative to broaden and deepen the business component of the U.S.-ASEAN dialogue, so our mission to ASEAN has been working both with U.S. business and with all of the countries in ASEAN to determine who to invite to this event, and that was obviously the Secretary’s invitation.
QUESTION: The Secretary ignored a question when asked what her response was to the latest massacres in Syria. Do you have any comment on that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t here in Asia today.
QUESTION: We can talk to you later?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
PRN: 2012/ T68-32