US won't let 'the Burmese tail wag the ASEAN dog'

Nov 10, 2009 (DVB), US president Barrack Obama will this week look to rekindle relations with Southeast Asian countries that his administration says have been thwarted by a lack of interaction with Burma.

Obama is due in Singapore on Sunday for the first ever meeting between a US president and the heads of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc.

Speculation that he would meet privately with the Burmese prime minister at the ASEAN-US summit was however quashed by Washington's senior director for East Asian Affairs, Jeff Bader.

"One of them [at the summit] will be the prime minister of Burma. The meeting is not called for the purpose of a bilateral or a private conversation between the two," Bader said.

He added: "One of the frustrations that we’ve had with policy towards Burma, over recent years, has been that the inability to have interaction with Burma has prevented certain kinds of interaction with ASEAN as a whole."

"And the statement we’re trying to make here is that we’re not going to let the Burmese tail wag the ASEAN dog here."

The US has accompanied its new policy of engagement with the Burmese regime with talk of expanding its presence in Southeast Asia, which it acknowledges has been on the decline while China's has grown.

According to Michael Froman, deputy national security advisor for International Economic Affairs, Obama will take with him to the summit a message that the US is "there for the long haul".

The summit will follow on the heels of a visit to Burma last week by senior US government official Kurt Campbell, who held a rare meeting with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to a Washington official who spoke to the Singapore news agency The Straits Times, Obama could make a personal appeal for Suu Kyi's release on Sunday.

Her plight was taken up by the former First Lady, Laura Bush, who made repeated calls for her release, and that of other political prisoners in Burma.

Obama has however broken with the previous Bush administration's policy of isolating the regime as a means to win political concessions, and instead has opted for dialogue and the prospect of sanctions being lifted if conditions are met.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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