Rice To Discuss Common Security Challenges at Southeast Asia Forum

By Melody Merin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Strengthening relationships between the United States and Southeast Asian countries and discussing common security challenges in the region will be the focus of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the 13th meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

During a roundtable discussion with Asian print journalists July 21, Rice said the ARF meeting July 28 will give her “an opportunity to continue [the] process of deepening the ties" with the member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. (See related article.)

“The Asia-Pacific region and Southeast Asia are places that are developing and evolving and changing very rapidly, so it's good to have these fora in which we can talk about all of the changes that are taking place,” Rice said.

The ARF meeting is intended to encourage dialogue and consultation on political and security issues of common interest and concern in the Asia-Pacific region.  It brings together the 10 ASEAN members with representatives of Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, East Timor and the United States.

In addition to strengthening ties between the United States and Southeast Asia, Rice hopes to discuss security challenges affecting the region - such as terrorism, North Korea's nuclear activities and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - and to speak with colleagues representing “countries that have very important interests in the Middle East” such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Prior to the ARF meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Secretary Rice will be traveling to Israel and the Palestinian Territories to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to Rome to meet with members of the “Lebanon Core Group” July 26 to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hizballah. (See related article.)

Rice originally was scheduled to travel to Japan, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam the week of July 24-29. (See related article.)


Regarding North Korea's nuclear activities, the secretary said she "would be very happy to attend" an informal meeting with the participants in the Six-Party Talks - North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States.  She stressed that any meeting between the United States and North Korea must be in the context of such multilateral talks.

"If the North Koreans want to come to six-party talks at any level, I think it would be fine, but we need to do it at six parties.  The North Koreans would like to make this an issue between the United States and North Korea, but of course, what the Security Council resolution [1695] shows is that this is a problem that North Korea has with the entire international community," she said.

On July 15, the United Nations Security Council unanimously U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695, a resolution that demands North Korea suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program, requires U.N. member states to refrain from trading with North Korea on missile-related goods and technology, and urges North Korea return immediately and without preconditions to the Six-Party Talks. (See related article.)

The Security Council adopted the resolution 11 days after North Korea test-fired several Scud-type and Nodong short- to medium-range missiles capable of reaching Japan and a Taepodong-2 long-range missile believed capable of reaching U.S. territory.

"North Korea is a completely irresponsible state and dangerous.  And when you look at them testing missiles, not telling anybody they're firing them in all different directions and they're saying that they have a nuclear weapons capability ... that they could make those together is very dangerous," she said.

When asked about South Korea's influence on its northern neighbor, Rice responded, “We recognize the importance of the inter-Korean dialogue. We recognize that North Korea is South Korea's neighbor and … we would just hope that … any contacts with North Korea are aimed at getting North Korea to behave in a way that is responsible.” 

Rice said the United States is asking other countries "to use whatever contacts they have and whatever leverage they have with North Korea to get the North Koreans to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula."

"[I]t is in no one's interest to have a nuclear North Korea," she said.  "That's what the six-party talks are about, that's what the UN Security Council resolution on the missile launch was about."


Turning to China, Rice noted the country's "growing power and influence" and said it needs to be "a concrete and active contributor to the improvement of security and prosperity."

"We want China to be strong and confident in international politics and to be able to act responsibly on behalf of international security,” Rice said. One example of that influence is China’s recent assistance in securing adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695, she said.

“China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. And so the work that we do together there is also very important, so as the U.N. is involved on Iran, on North Korea, potentially even in the Middle East, you have not just U.S.-China relations, but the U.S.-China relationship working to solve problems in international politics," she said.

The secretary acknowledged the complexity of the bilateral relationship between the United States and China and said she welcomed opportunities to discuss “in a respectful way” U.S. concerns about human rights and religious freedom in China.

For more information on U.S. policies, see East Asia and the Pacific.

A transcript of the roundtable is available on the State Department Web site.