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11 July 2005

U.S. Increasing Anti-Terror Cooperation In Asia, Rice Says

Secretary urges Thailand to continue pushing Burma for reform

The United States is intensifying cooperation to fight terrorism in Southeast Asia, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"We have a very close relationship with Thailand as a major non-NATO ally, and that allows us to work on defense and intelligence and other cooperation from a very firm foundation and basis," Rice said July 11 during a press conference in Phuket, Thailand, with Thai Foreign Minister Khantathi Suphamongkorn.

"The threat of extremism is a threat that is worldwide, and of course, it's had its manifestation in Southeast Asia," Rice said, citing the October 2002 nightclub bombings on the island of Bali in Indonesia.

Rice arrived in Phuket July 10 to survey reconstruction efforts under way since a disastrous tsunami struck the region in December 2004.  Her two-day visit to Thailand followed meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, where she discussed efforts to restart the Six-Party Talks among the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. 

Bilateral cooperation in the wake of the tsunami further strengthened the United States' relationship with Thailand and helped bolster cooperation in dealing with terrorists, Rice said.

The secretary said she had discussed the situation in Burma with her Thai counterpart, and asked Thailand to use its contacts to continue to press the Burmese military regime for greater openness and for the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other human rights activists.

"We hear from time to time, representations that there will be progress, but there seems never to be progress," she said.

Asked about the July ministerial meeting of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Laos, Rice said she regretted that she would not be able to attend due to travel conflicts but that Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick would represent the United States.

"One reason that I wanted to come here to Thailand, in addition to working on our very strong bilateral relationship, is that Thailand is our dialogue partner for ASEAN," Rice said.

Following her stop in Thailand, the secretary will continue to Japan and South Korea.

For more information, see Secretary Rice's Trip to East Asia.

Following is the transcript of the press conference:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
July 11, 2005

JOINT PRESS AVAILABILITY
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
With Thailand Foreign Minister Khantathi Suphamongkhon
July 11, 2005

Phuket, Thailand

(10:25 a.m. local time)

MODERATOR:  Distinguished members of the press, His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand Khantathi Suphamongkhon and the Honorable Secretary of State of the United States will now be giving their joint press conference on the occasion of the visit to Thailand of the Secretary of State of the United States.  And now, we'd like to invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand to give his opening remarks.

FORIEGN MINISTER SUPHAMONGKHON:  Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start out by saying that we are so happy to have Secretary Rice here with us.  We had an excellent breakfast.  I would underline working breakfast.  (Laughter).  But we had a very good discussion on a variety of different issues that both countries feel are important to us.  We touched base on, of course, China, in general terms, because Secretary Rice has just returned from China and my Prime Minister has visited China recently.  We talked about, of course, the ways and means that China can be a good partner (inaudible) also, we are here to help.

Tsunami comes to mind, and when tsunami comes to mind, we were very pleased to receive the message from Secretary Rice our first operation during the tsunami.  Secretary Rice kindly stated that we did an outstanding job and I would say, together.  It was together, the way that we were able to work closely, not only to help the situation in Thailand, but we were able to also work closely to help other countries.  And it reflects the fact that Thailand is an ally to U.S. and Thailand is also a special friend.  We are special friends.

Now, of course, you kindly conveyed the warm greetings to my Prime Minister from President Bush.  And that's appreciated, as fellow Texans.

SECRETARY RICE:  Yes.

FORIEGN MINISTER SUPHAMONGKHON:  Now, we also, regarding the tsunami, we asked for Secretary Rice's kind assistance in conveying the message that our strength -- growth -- have been hurt by that and you have the AD going on in the U.S. on Thai shrimps and we would appreciate help on that in special circumstances, especially related to tsunami, because Thailand is a partner.  We do not want aid, but hope you would like us to offer fair and -- allow our exporters to be competitive.  So we appreciate Secretary Rice conveying that message with Washington.

Other than that, we covered a variety of different issues regarding the region and beyond.  I'm including the fact that we would like to emphasize concrete cooperation between our two countries.  We are a major non-NATO ally of the U.S. and we were talking about the need to set some deadlines for our officials to work together in a comprehensive way to have concrete results from our relationship.  So overall, excellent meeting we had.  And I would like to invite Secretary Rice to say a few words.

SECRETARY RICE:  Thank you very much, Minister.  We did indeed have an excellent breakfast and I want to emphasize that it was excellent both in terms of the company and excellent in terms of the food.  It was very -- a really lovely breakfast.

This is a great place, of course, Thailand.  And a special friend and good ally for many, many years.  We talked about a range of bilateral issues that are reflective of the deep relations and the strong bonds between Thailand and the United States.  Those bonds were very much on display during the tsunami.  This area, Phuket, of course, was hit by that tsunami and I'm now going to go up and look at some of the projects that have been done to repair the damage from that tsunami.  I offered congratulations to the Government of Thailand for its response to that disaster; its response, first and foremost, on behalf of the people of Thailand; but also, the remarkable response that we had together to the needs of the region.  And we talked about how this long and deep relationship -- we could not have done it without that infrastructure.  And I think we brought that to bear for the benefit of the region.

We did talk about this vital and very dynamic region.  We talked about the situation in Burma and I asked that our Thai friends who have relations with Burma and dialogue with Burma, they continue to press the cases of those who are held, including Aung San Suu Kyi, but to press the Burmese toward a more open society.  We talked about developments in the region and about, as the Prime Minister said about China, and how this can be a -- China can be a positive force in the region.

And we also had a chance to talk about North Korea in the run-up now to the six-party talks.  There are contacts between Thailand and North Korea that have been ongoing for some time.  And they will be put, I think, to good use as the entire world looks to try and make progress in those talks.

And so it was really an excellent discussion.  And this is just a beautiful, beautiful place, Phuket.  I am so glad to be here.  I've never been here before.  I've been, of course, to Thailand on a couple of occasions.

But I want to thank the Thai Government, the Prime Minister this morning, the Foreign Minister and others for the warm hospitality here and hope that many Americans will get to see this really beautiful piece of paradise.

MODERATOR:  The floor's now open to questions from members of the press.  We have time for four questions.  The first question from the Thai press.  Please state your name and affiliation.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) from the Nation newspaper.  Thailand has another problem in Southern Thailand beyond (inaudible) of the countries.  Regarding that -- you might say that this is an internal problem, but it's partly that escalation of the problem to other countries in the region.  The other hand is that the violation of human rights by the handling of the Taliban.   Did you concert about any advice for how could Thailand to dealing with the situation in (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, we have talked about this with the Government of Thailand and, of course, this is a matter for Thailand to deal with.  And we have confidence that Thailand will do precisely that.  Thailand is a democratic ally, and we believe that a country that has demonstrated concerns for human rights.  I understand that there is a commission that has been appointed to look into the situation in the South and to make recommendations.  And this is the way that democratic states handle very difficult situations.  And so I am confident that Thailand will do so.

QUESTION:  Glen Kessler, Washington Post.  Madame Secretary, you are the first Secretary of State in more than two decades to skip the ASEAN Regional Forum.  Many in the region are offended by this decision.  Are you trying to send a signal that the possibility that Burma will chair ASEAN next year is unacceptable?  And also there are many in the region that say that the Thaksin Government has been an enabler and supporter of the Burmese regime.  Do you agree with that assessment?  And do you believe that they need to do more?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, on the first question about ASEAN, I have made clear my deep interest in and engagement with ASEAN, as has the United States.  And let me just note the President has himself met with ASEAN leaders on a couple of occasions at other summits.  I, myself, met, I think, 10 days ago or so ago with ASEAN officials who were gathered in the United States.  Of course, one reason that I wanted to come here to Thailand, in addition to working on our very strong bilateral relationship, is that Thailand is our dialogue partner for ASEAN.   And so we have had a discussion of ASEAN.

I'm very sorry that I'm not going to be able to go to the ASEAN summit this year and to the ARF because I think this is a vital organization with which we want to engage more.  I do have other essential travel that I have to do in roughly the same timeframe.  Bob Zoellick, the Deputy Secretary of State, is going to represent us at the ARF.  And Bob, of course, is a somewhat unusual deputy in that he was a cabinet secretary, he was the U.S. Trade Representative, knows a lot of the ASEAN heads of state, ASEAN foreign ministers, ASEAN economic ministers, and I think will therefore represent us exceedingly well.

I look forward to, prior to those meetings, talking with our dialogue partner.  And after those meetings, talking with our dialogue partner and to being very engaged.  But it's just a matter of essential travel elsewhere is just going to make it difficult for me to be out of -- in Laos at that particular time.

QUESTION:  What about Burma?

SECRETARY RICE:  Oh, I'm sorry -- on Burma.  We did discuss Burma.  We talked about the need to have the Burmese Government make progress.  We hear, from time to time, representations that there will be progress, but there seems never to be progress.  You know that we have taken a number of steps on the Burma situation.  We continue to talk openly about it and are encouraging all of our partners, not just Thailand, but all of our partners who have contacts with Burma to press the case for human rights, to press the case for greater openness, to press the case for human rights activists like Aung San Suu Kyi, someone who represents the possibility of reconciliation for the people of Burma.  And so we hope that, of course, everyone can do more, but the Thai Government is always very open to those discussions, very willing to have those discussions and we appreciate it.

FOREIGN MINISTER SUPHAMONGKHON:  Yes and on that point, it is very correct that we actually share the same goal.  And we want to -- we do want to see democracy and national reconciliation process be completed in Myanmar as soon as possible.

QUESTION:  Madame Secretary, I'm (inaudible) from the Channel 9 Thailand, the Thai News Agency.  My question is what action do Southeast Asia needs to improve its security situation?  And how do you see Thailand in the picture?  Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE:  Yes.  Well, first of all, we have a very close relationship with Thailand as a major non-NATO ally, and that allows us to work on defense and intelligence and other cooperation from a very firm foundation and basis.  And obviously, the threat of extremism is a threat that is worldwide, and of course, it's had its manifestation in Southeast Asia as well, witness the bombing in Bali a couple of years ago.  And so this is a region that does have a problem.  I want to note that, as I said, it's not just this region.  We've seen it in London.  We've seen it in the United States.  We've seen it in Morocco.  This is a worldwide problem.

And so with all of our regional partners, we are intensifying counterterrorism cooperation.  We are intensifying intelligence cooperation.  We are intensifying law enforcement cooperation.  We've had training and technical assistance on some of these matters with Thailand.  And we intend to continue that.

I think that in many ways what we demonstrated on the humanitarian and compassion side during the tsunami was what it means to have a longstanding relationship that already has infrastructure and a platform from which to cooperate.  And that same infrastructure and platform from which to cooperate can help us, too, in dealing with the terrorist threat.

FOREIGN MINISTER SUPHAMONGKHON:  I'd just like to add just one point that terrorism is a global problem, as you know, and we stand ready to work closely with the U.S., as well as our other friends around the world, to help tackle this problem in the best possible way.

MODERATOR:  Jeanine Zacharia, Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Madame Secretary, do you consider the -- as a follow-up to the previous question on the Thai insurgency in the South -- do you consider this a domestic problem or of international concern?  And how concerned are you that the militants in the South might link up with al-Qaida the way we've seen other groups do around the world?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, we trust the Thais to watch for any links that there might be to international terrorism, but my understanding is that the -- belief is that this is a situation that is, in a sense, contained within the South.  But this is a domestic issue for Thailand from our point of view.  It is also an issue that Thailand seems to be moving ahead to try and deal with.  It seems to me that to have an independent commission that is headed, I understand, by a highly respected former Prime Minister and to -- as I understand it, the Prime Minister has said that he looks forward to those recommendations and expects to implement those recommendations, that's a very positive step in dealing with it.  And we will, of course, stay in close contact with our Thai friends about this, but they are dealing with it.  We believe it can be dealt with by the Thais and, like democratic government, this is the way that I think these situations are dealt with most effectively.

FOREIGN MINISTER SUPHAMONGKHON:  And from our side, we have received no information on any linkages between what's happening in the southern part of Thailand and international terrorism.  But in addition to that, (inaudible) the OIC, which had a delegation recently in Thailand.  The NU from Indonesia came -- there's a sense of (inaudible) the situation in the southern part of Thailand, despite conflict of religion.  But it's a situation in which certain groups of people -- and they're different; they have different goals.  Some are just common criminals.  Some are separatists.  And they're using violence and holding religion down to be used as a justification.  So it's important that -- it's not a conflict of religion.  And we are solving the problem in a comprehensive way.  And as the Secretary said, we have the National Reconciliation Commission, which is truly independent, looking into the matter, too, so we're completely transparent.

MODERATOR:  Yes, I'm sorry, that was the final question.

SECRETARY RICE:  Thank you very much.

(end transcript)