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US Seeks Stronger Ties After Obama Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, toasts with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the East Asia Summit Dinner during the East Asia Summit at the Diamond Island Convention Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON DC - The United States is looking forward to making sure the US-Cambodian relations grow stronger after the visit of US President Barack Obama to Cambodia in November, according to US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh.

In a recent interview with VOA Khmer, McIntosh said Obama has decided to make Southeast Asia and Asia a closer partner to the US. “The US core interest is in economic prosperity, stability and security here,” he said. “And I think it also speaks specifically to Cambodia because the United States and Cambodia have just celebrated over 60 years of diplomatic relations.”

While some political analysts say the increased US attention to the region is to counter the growing influence of Beijing, McIntosh said the US encourages the economic growth of China.

“A strong China, an economically prosperous China, is good for China itself and for the region,” he said. “And the United States works together with China to make sure that both of us are working together for the betterment of the region and for the betterment of Cambodia.”

However, despite the improved relations, the US still has concerns with Cambodia’s human rights abuses and flawed electoral system. Cambodia, meanwhile, says it wants war-era debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime to be forgiven.

McIntosh said it is important that the two countries continue to discuss issues where they disagree.

US Seeks Stronger Ties After Obama Visit
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“To speak specifically to the debt issue, this is a longstanding issue that we will continue to discuss with the Cambodians,” he said. Following a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in 2010, the US has offered a number of solutions to the debt problem, he said. “And we are waiting for Cambodia to proceed.”

Asked what groups of Cambodians can positively effect change in the US-Cambodian relationship, he pointed to the youth and a new initiative by the current US ambassador to Cambodia, William Todd. “He recently formed the Ambassador Youth Council,” McIntosh said. “We selected 15 outstanding youth from across Cambodia to be personal advisors to the US ambassador to let the ambassador and the embassy know what we should be doing that affects youth in Cambodia, what you care about and how do you perceive the policies in Cambodia.”

Meanwhile, the ambassador continues to be “very keen on promoting trade and investments within Cambodia,” McIntosh said. “But in order to achieve that goal, the United States believes that Cambodia should focus on lowering a number of barriers. What I mean by that is corruption, making sure that there is increased transparency, making sure that there’s a clear rule of law, and making sure that there is independent judiciary. Without those factors we cannot bring more trade and investment here.”