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Cambodia Has Role To Play: US Official

A high-ranking State Department official said Wednesday that Cambodia plays an important role in some US issues, although the two countries sometimes have disagreements.

Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said Wednesday Cambodia can help the US in many ways.

“First of all just welcoming the role of the Unites States in Asia is something we very much appreciated,” Campbell told VOA Khmer in an exclusive interview in Washington. “There are a host of new issues we are dealing with in Asia, like climate change, and Cambodia would be affected if climate change continues given its reliance on the Mekong River.”

Under the administration of President Barrack Obama, US foreign policy will focus more on Southeast Asia, he said.

The US and Cambodia recently increased cooperation on many issues, including human trafficking, narcotics and terrorism, but Campbell acknowledged relations had not been perfect.

“There are issues on which our two countries disagree, but one of the things that we are seeking is the kind of dialogue where we are able to balance it,” he said. “We are working closely together with the enduring areas where we still have difficulties.”

The two sides are currently at odds over $300 million in debt accrued under the Lon Nol regime, which the US wants paid back but Cambodia wants turned into humanitarian aid.

Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the two sides have a good partnership, but they differ on freedoms and human rights.

“The two cultures are different,” he said. “On the US side, there is still a lack of understanding about the reality in Cambodia.”

This year will mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and Campbell said he was looking forward to celebrations in July.

“I think one of the things we want to underscore is our support for Cambodia and our excitement for the 60th anniversary, so that’s why it’s one of the reasons I am looking forward to the visit,” he said.