ASEAN tones down language on Iraq in presence of US delegate
MANILA, Philippines -- When they gathered in Manila last Monday for the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meetings, the 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations jointly called for a ''phased and calibrated withdrawal of foreign forces'' in Iraq.
But something changed as the conference table expanded three days later to include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ growing circle of friends, including the United States.
By Thursday, Iraq was still on the agenda but that line was gone in the closing statement issued by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo as chairman of the 14th ASEAN Regional Forum.
An adjunct event to the ASEAN ministerial conference, the expanded forum seated ASEAN members with 17 other partners and observers that included the United States, Australia, and the European Union.
In the communiqué issued on July 30, the ASSEAN ministers expressed ''deep concern over the continued instability in Iraq and reaffirmed (their) support for the Iraqi government and its efforts to ensure unity, security, stability, prosperity in Iraq.”
''Toward this end, we believe that the phased and calibrated withdrawal of foreign forces in Iraq, taking into account the conditions on the ground, will contribute towards bringing normalcy,'' the communiqué said, adding:
''We welcomed the outcomes of the international meetings in Baghdad and Sharm El-Sheikh towards expediting national reconciliation and reconstruction that is crucial to the attainment of peace, security, and development in Iraq.''
This whole chunk of text was repeated, almost word-for-word, in the expanded forum’s
Chairman's Statement issued by Romulo late Thursday -- except for the sentence concerning the pullout of foreign troops.
''It's not difficult to explain the difference,'' foreign office spokesman Claro Cristobal told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Friday. ''The US and Australia are there; you can just imagine what they said (in the forum).''
''The chair's statement reflects the discussion that took place. If there's a delegation that aired a different view, you consider that. If certain statements didn't appear (in the chair's statement) it's obvious there was no consensus,'' Cristobal added.
''There's a different composition of members (between the purely ASEAN conference and the expanded meeting) hence different views,'' another official privy to both meetings explained.
Established in 1994, the ASEAN Regional Forum is considered the principal forum in the Asia-Pacific region dedicated to addressing regional and international security issues.
The 14th ARF conference hosted by Manila on August 2 at the Philippine International
Convention Center was also attended by Bangladesh, Canada, China, India, Japan, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, North and South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste.
The US delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was initially listed as the top Washington delegate, but she skipped attendance in favor of a trip to the Middle East.
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