- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2010

GAP IN SOUTH ASIA

The senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is worried that President Obamais risking U.S. relations with Southeast Asia by failing to nominate an ambassador to an area where China already is spreading its commercial influence.

Mr. Obama’s delay in naming an envoy to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could lead to embarrassment for the administration when leaders of the 10-nation economic bloc meet in the United States. The summit is expected in October.

Some ASEAN ambassadors in Washington are anxious because the White House has yet to decide whether the summit will be held in the nation’s capital or in New York. They have to make plans and hotel reservations for their presidents or prime ministers and the delegations that will accompany them.

Sen. Richard G. Lugarof Indiana wrote Mr. Obama last week, urging him to name an ambassador to ASEAN to replace Scot Marciel, who just took his new assignment as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. President George W. Bush selected Mr. Marciel as the first U.S. ambassador to ASEAN in 2008. Mr. Lugar also called on Mr. Obama to confirm that the United States will, indeed, host the summit.

“As you are aware, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a strategic partner of the United States and our nation’s fourth largest export market,” Mr. Lugar said.

“Having named the first ambassador to ASEAN, it is unfortunate the United States has delayed with naming his successor. I encourage you to act swiftly in nominating an ambassador to ASEAN and in confirming that the U.S.-ASEAN summit will occur.”

China is quickly becoming the most important trading partner for the ASEAN region. Its trade increased by 11.6 percent last year from 4 percent a decade ago. U.S. trade fell to 9.7 percent from 15 percent during the same period.

In Jakarta, the Indonesian capital and ASEAN headquarters, the bloc’s secretary-general, Surin Pitsuwan, told reporters of his “disappointment” at Mr. Obama’s delay in naming a new ambassador.

ASEAN members are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mr. Marciel presented his diplomatic credentials to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono earlier this month.

“I am excited to be in this important country at this time of tremendous opportunity and promised in U.S.-Indonesia relations,” the career diplomat said. “I will do my best to implement President Obama’s policies recognizing Indonesia’s key role in the region.”

Mr. Obama has a special connection to Indonesia, where he went to school from the ages of 6 to 10 after his mother married an Indonesian man.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Wednesday

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who meets with President Obama. On Thursday, he attends a dinner after the opening of Middle East peace talks.

Thursday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and King Abdullah II of Jordan. They attend the opening of a round of White House peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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