|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and|
Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan
Joint press conference, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Bangkok, Thailand, March 4, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
MINISTER SURIN: Ladies and Gentlemen of the press. Although our distinguished visitor is a lady, but as a proper host, let me first take the floor. With that consent let me also thank all the journalists who are present here for your attention and for your effort in trying to cover Madam Secretary's visit to Thailand, which I can tell you has been a great success from the Thai perspective.
This is a trip long delayed. She had planned to visit us at the end of the APEC summit last November from Kuala Lumpur, but something happened, some other place around the world. She was called away, but we are glad that she could fulfill that wish of hers and could spend more time than originally intended at the end of last year.
We have covered much ground, many issues, but I could inform you that most of the issues that we have discussed, we have agreed, and we are very much appreciative of each otherís efforts. First of all, the economic recovery effort on the Thai side, all the efforts for the restructuring, for the establishment of discipline and transparency in the running of our economy certainly has been watched with great attention, and the Secretary has been informed by the Prime Minister of how the process is going. She is very, very pleased to know the progress and sympathetic and understanding of some of the problems that we have in the process. Precisely, because this is an open system, this is a democratic system; therefore, it needs time. It needs a lot of players in the system, and I think as a representative of a most democratic society, she understands that, and she assures us that her Government and her private sector also understand that.
Much of the American private sector is very much committed to the recovery of the Thai economy and feel part of the process of the recovery and would like to come and participate in that process of recovery.
We have discussed also various assistance programs including the setting up and the operation of the Mine Action Center. The United States has committed three million dollars for the two-year program that has been agreed upon initially to help Thailand do the de-mining in various areas, regions, parts of the country, particularly along the border. We appreciate that very much, and I mentioned to her that there is also some need for rehabilitation activities for those victims of the land mines. And she said that she has already discussed with her Ambassador here to go about doing that.
We have also been very close in the cooperation to establish the International Law Enforcement Academy here in Bangkok to help in the prosecution, in the suppression of international crimes, particularly in drug trafficking and production. That also has been extremely helpful and a symbol of close relationship between our two countries.
I think I have made enough of the opening statement. We have very little time. I would turn to Madam Secretary to ask her to give opening remarks. And then there will be questions and answers. Please, Madam.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am very pleased to be in Bangkok, to have had an audience with His Majesty, the King, and to have met with Prime Minister Chuan and now with my friend, the Foreign Minister. I have also had the opportunity to visit important social projects in beautiful Chiang Mai and to meet with NGO and business representatives here in the capital.
My goal in coming here is to reaffirm America's deep friendship with our long-time ally, Thailand, and our strong support for its political and economic reform initiatives during what has been a very difficult period.
In my meetings with Thai officials, I expressed backing for the government's effort to spur recovery through an overhaul of the economic legal framework and to make progress on bank re-capitalization and the restructuring of corporate debt.
We are finding throughout the region--and indeed globally--that transparency, accountability and respect for human rights and the rule of law are keys to a sound economic base. And they are among the building blocks of a true democracy.
Although there remains a great deal of work to be done in these areas, Thailand is increasingly serving as a model for others.
We also discussed in our meetings the importance of addressing the social impacts of the financial crisis. It is vital that hard-won progress not be lost; that people not be driven through desperation into drugs, prostitution or crime; and that workers have access to the skills they will need in the 21st century. The United States is working bilaterally with many partners to address these problems in Thailand and other countries that have suffered financial setbacks.
During our meeting, I also congratulated Foreign Minister Surin on the leadership role he has played in ASEAN, where Thailand originated an approach known as "enhanced interaction." This reflects both the interconnected nature of the world today and, if I may quote the Foreign Minister, "the yearning for democracy that is burning in every Thai heart, indeed, in every Asian heart."
In this connection, the Foreign Minister and I consulted on ways to encourage a deepening of democracy in Cambodia, and the prospects for a dialogue between the authorities in Burma and the democratic opposition.
We also reviewed other areas of U.S.-Thai cooperation including help for refugees, labor issues, humanitarian demining and counternarcotics.
And I note that the new International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok is slated to accept its first class of students from ASEAN countries and China next week. We expect this joint Thai-U.S. institution to help bolster cooperation throughout the region in the fight against transnational crime.
Today, I also confirmed to Foreign Minister Surin, that the United States is prepared to work with Thailand towards the purchase of used American F-16 fighter aircraft. This will further reinforce our strong bilateral security relationship.
In closing, I want to thank the Foreign Minister and our other Thai hosts for their hospitality. Friendship between the United States and Thailand is firm, and I am confident we will build even stronger partnerships in the future. Thank you.
QUESTION: My name is Yindee Lertchareonchoke from the Nation newspaper. My questions are for Ms. Albright. I am speaking on behalf of the Thai press and permit me to speak in Thai. (Through interpreter) There are three questions. The first one is how does the United States look at the possibility of the recovery of the economic crisis in Thailand, and what kind of role the United States is going to play in that process, especially in opening the market for Thai goods?
The second question concerns the narcotics cooperation. The United States and the western world need to be cooperating with other countries in dealing with this problem. How would the United States change the position; and how would you deal with Burma in that regard, in dealing with narcotics?
Concerning Cambodia and the capturing of Ta Mok, what is the position on that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Okay. You haven't left any questions for anybody else. (Laughter.) Let me say, on the economic crisis here, I have in all my conversations spoken about the great progress that has been made here already, and the support that we, as the United States and the international community generally, have been now giving to Thailand.
In my discussions with the Prime Minister we talked about the importance of additional legislation that is needed in order to really fix the economic evolution and democratic reform within the system, and the importance of various pieces of legislation. But one that is very important is SELRA [State Enterprise Labor Relations Act], which deals with labor rights and is something that I stressed specifically.
The United States is now, I think, the largest market for Thai goods. We also are very pleased with the direct investment that is taking place here, but did stress the importance of developing the legislation that will help even more.
On the narcotics issue, we did speak a lot about the cooperation that is needed between our various agencies, and the importance of dealing with problems on the border.
I was very impressed in my meetings in Chiang Mai with going to see this crop substitution program, which I think is a key to dealing with the opium problem here, and the whole problem in the Golden Triangle. I was very impressed with what is being done with the support of His Majesty, on that particular type of approach.
Also we were very concerned about the trafficking in women and children that have a lot to do both with the drug problem as well as the economic crisis.
And with Burma, I have made clear that we would obviously like to see a more effective program in Burma. There is a lot of talk and not enough action there. It is very important for there to be a more effective drug program in Burma.
On Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge problems, we want very much to bring the top leaders of the Khmer Rouge that were responsible for the horrible killings between '75 and '79 to be brought to justice. And we support an appropriate international tribunal for that. We did speak about the importance of rendering Ta Mok to Cambodian authorities.
QUESTION: Matthew Lee from AFP. I would like to ask a follow-up question to the last answer, and that is, what is the position of both the United States and Thailand about the UN recommendation for an international tribunal for the Khmer Rouge and the reaction to Hun Sen's somewhat ambivalent response yesterday to Secretary General Annan?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me just say that we believe, as Iíve stated, that we want these top leadership brought to justice, and we do support an international tribunal on this. I have not seen the UN report, but obviously we will study it. I think that we would disagree with the point that Hun Sen and others in his leadership have made, that bringing these people to justice would be destabilizing. On the contrary, we think that that is the only way to reconciliation, and that a truth commission is not a substitute for an international tribunal.
MINISTER SURIN: On this point, the Thai Prime Minister has made it clear to Madam Secretary that we have put out an announcement that three former leaders of the Khmer Rouge are undesirable persons in Thailand and whenever, if ever, they step on Thai soil, they will be dealt with according to Thai law. We also follow the recommendation or the development in the UN very, very closely. As a member of the United Nations, we certainly will monitor and follow and will participate in that deliberation. We believe that the decision on the prosecution is up to the Khmer leadership now. We have already mentioned to the public on two issues, that is, do not drag anybody into the process. The world is specifically paying attention to that very period of 1975 and 1979. A democracy, a human rights-respecting society like Thailand cannot do otherwise. But we abhor the killings during that period. We believe that this issue will continue to be an issue in the international community. If any country wants to belong and be part of the international community, such issues must be addressed and addressed fully.
QUESTION: John Raedler, from CNN, to Foreign Minister Surin. Is the Thai government as committed to an international tribunal as the U.S. government? Were there differences over that issue?
MINISTER SURIN: Again, it is being deliberated in the UN. As a member of the UN we would follow the consensus there. I think the only difference is probably the U.S. is now pushing for an international tribunal. I think the Thai position is waiting for the process to go through, and that is being discussed at the UN as it is appropriate. The decision to go on the international tribunal or not -- that's the Cambodians' decision. But be mindful of one fact and that is the expectation of the international community and don't drag anybody in, as I said.
QUESTION: Gary Thomas from Voice of America. Madam Secretary, the State Department's own just released narcotics strategy report did say that the Burmese government engaged in significant opium crop eradication efforts and that there is no evidence that they are engaged in drugs on an institutional level. How then are anti-narcotics efforts served by withholding counternarcotics aid to Rangoon? And is that policy under any review with an eye towards possibly changing and resuming counternarcotics aid to Burma?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all I think that they certainly can do a better job. I also think that having some of their top drug dealers, kingpins, living in Rangoon is not exactly a sign that they are dealing with it on an institutional basis. We obviously keep the situation under review at all times, but we are very concerned by the fact that the Burmese government is not doing all it can to deal with the issue; I think they could do a lot more. We know they can. Other governments are capable of doing it. I think that sometimes they turn a blind eye to some of the problems that are going on.
QUESTION: I am (inaudible) of the Hindu newspaper of India. This is a question I'd ask to U.S. Secretary of State. Does the U.S. welcome the latest Sino-Thai plan of action for the 21st century? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think I know. Yes. (Laughter). I don't know much about it, I'm sorry. You would have to ask the foreign minister.
MINISTER SURIN: Yes, actually. Thailand and China-- the foreign minister of China visited Thailand two weeks back. And we have agreed on a work plan for the relations into the 21st century. Itís a gamut of issues that we would be looking at together in this framework of cooperation and friendship, in a sense trying to put everything in one framework -- all the things that we have been doing in the past 24-25 years. And it ranged from economic cooperation to scientific to drug suppression to cooperation on education. Many things, including liaising on security issues, stability issues in the region. I don't think any country can object to that, because it is all for the peaceful region of Southeast Asia.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Sounds as if it has all the subjects that are important to a relationship in the region.
QUESTION: My name is Micool Brooke, Asian Defense Journal. The question for Mrs. Albright regarding the discussions for the sale of U.S. F-16 air defense fighters: will these have AMRAAM capability -- I believe they have AMRAAM capability? And is the US government reversing its decision so far not to release AMRAAM to this region? That you may review this decision following Russia's scheduled delivery of the AA12 to the (inaudible) airforce for their MIG 29's this year?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say that those talks here on the F16's are at a beginning stage. I do not believe that they do have AMRAAM capability. But the talks are -- I have just announced this today to the Foreign Minister, and we will begin detailed considerations on the subject.
MINISTER SURIN: I think there is some sense of confusion here about the real U.S. position on the position of the WTO Director General. (Laughter.) I think the press would appreciate a statement from you, Madame. (Laughter.) You can see the level of interest on this one.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Certainly, I certainly felt it. (Laughter.)
MINISTER SURIN: I will be impeached if I don't ask you that question. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: On that subject, let me say that the United States and Thailand agree on the importance of the WTO and the need for strong leadership in the world trading system. The U.S. and Thailand also agreed that the WTO should choose a new director general as soon as possible, ideally by the end of this month, March. The members of WTO are informally consulting to identify a candidate who could have the support of all its members. And all of us have been exchanging views on which of the candidates have policy positions and a vision for the WTO that most closely corresponds to our own and that process is continuing. We have high regard for Dr. Supachai, both personally and professionally. We have not publicly endorsed any candidate and have not ruled out any of the four candidates.
MINISTER SURIN: I think that is perfectly clear. (Laughter.) As clear as it could be at this stage. Thank you very much maíam for your time.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much.
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