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09PHNOMPENH79 AMBASSADOR’S INITIAL MEETING WITH CAMBODIAN PRIME MINISTER HUN SEN

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“189591”,”1/30/2009 10:07″,”09PHNOMPENH79″,

“Embassy Phnom Penh”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/30/2019

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, PTER, KDEM, ECON, EAID, CB

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR\’S INITIAL MEETING WITH CAMBODIAN PRIME

MINISTER HUN SEN

 

Classified by: Ambassador Carol A. Rodley for reasons 1.4

(b,d)

 

1. (C) Summary: In the Ambassador\’s first call on Prime

Minister Hun Sen since presenting credentials, the PM took

the opportunity to renew his personal relationship with the

Ambassador and review the evolution of U.S.-Cambodian

relations over the past several years, highlighting several

areas of successful cooperation. Hun Sen congratulated

President Obama on his inauguration, expressed hope that

the new administration will be successful in its bid to

stimulate the sluggish domestic economy, and noted the

bilateral relationship had already taken on a \”new face.\”

He called the U.S. the locomotive for the world\’s economic

train and noted how important a U.S. recovery would be for

Cambodia\’s economic growth, which he pegged at 7 percent in

2009. The Prime Minister was particularly effusive about

the role of Peace Corps volunteers in Cambodia in helping

to communicate the image of Cambodia to the American

people. The Ambassador pledged her determination to work

on shifting the perception of Cambodia in the U.S. from one

stuck in the past to a more accurate view of Cambodia in

its present state. Although he raised ASEAN, praising the

U.S. appointment of an Ambassador to ASEAN, the PM did not

bring up bilateral relations with Thailand or the Preah

Vihear border dispute. END SUMMARY.

 

———————–

Renewing Acquaintances

———————–

 

2. (C) The Ambassador\’s first formal call on Prime

Minister Hun Sen in an hour-long meeting at the Ministry of

Foreign Affairs January 29 was characterized by warm

personal greetings and the renewal of their earlier

acquaintance. The PM was pleased to note that the

Ambassador\’s previous assignment here means she is already

well-versed in the many facets of Cambodia, including its

language and culture, and said he hoped this background

would help to improve relations between the two countries.

He also noted the fortuitous timing of the Ambassador\’s

presentation of credentials, which took place on the same

day as the presidential inauguration. The PM highlighted

the evolution of U.S.-Cambodia relations, citing different

spheres of cooperation in mil-mil, health sector, and

trade/investment to exemplify the increased breadth and

depth of the relationship. He credited the U.S. for being

a key player in facilitating Cambodian development over the

past decade, and expressed obvious pride in Cambodia\’s

progress since the Ambassador\’s previous assignment here

from 1997 – 2000.

 

——————————————— ——

A Walk Down Memory Lane – Khmer Rouge Then and Now

——————————————— ——

 

3. (C) When the Ambassador recounted visiting Hun Sen in

his Takhmau headquarters a decade earlier when he showed

detailed maps of his campaign against the Khmer Rouge, the

PM immediately lit up and recounted prior discussions about

capturing Khmer Rouge leaders. Recalling that some of

those leaders had since died, he noted that Nuon Chea and

Khieu Samphan were now in custody and awaiting trial at the

Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT). He also gratefully recalled

Senator John Kerry\’s vital role in negotiating the adoption

of the super-majority mechanism by which judgments will be

rendered at the KRT.

 

————-

US-Cambodia

————-

 

4. (C) The PM expressed confidence that growth and

cooperation between the two countries would continue to

increase. He conveyed his gratitude for U.S. assistance to

Cambodia while noting in particular the U.S. role in

Cambodia\’s economic growth. He referred to the dramatic

evolution in perceptions of the United States, from the

dark days of the Pol Pot era when even the suspicion of

association with the United States might be enough to earn

a death sentence, to the current state of affairs in which

Peace Corps volunteers live with Cambodian host families in

villages across the country, enjoying a free exchange of

impressions and lessons between the two cultures.

 

————————-

 

PHNOM PENH 00000079 002 OF 003

 

A Different Cambodia

————————-

 

5. (C) Following the Ambassador\’s observation that

Cambodians appear more confident, engaged in the world, and

optimistic about both their shared and individual futures

than when she departed in the summer of 2000, the PM

recalled the immense challenges then facing the country.

At that time Cambodia was in the throes of the worst

flooding in 100 years, with over half the population

dramatically affected. The PM spoke proudly of the strides

the country has made since then, noting that \”serious

management\” by the government has contributed to economic

growth and improved infrastructure such as roads and

construction projects, with steady progress toward

democratization. In a thinly veiled criticism of Thailand,

he referred to difficulties faced by other countries in the

region with peaceful transitions of power, and while he

conceded that Cambodia is still an emerging democracy, he

expressed pride at the conduct of the 2008 national

election. The challenges faced by Cambodia in 2009 are of

such a different nature from those ten years ago that, as

he joked, one of his biggest problems is how much longer it

will take before the refurbishment of his house in Phnom

Penh is completed.

 

————————–

Economic situation

————————–

 

6. (C) The Prime Minister noted more than once that the

United States is the \”locomotive\” of global economic

growth, and American growth has a ripple effect on other

national economies. He pointed to the U.S. role in helping

to stimulate the Cambodian economy in recent years, by

making U.S. markets available to Cambodian products,

especially those in the garment industry. Despite

Cambodia\’s economic slowdown, the PM predicted 7 percent

growth in 2009 and said USD 2 billion in Cambodian products

will still end up on the U.S. market. The PM expressed

hope that investment by U.S. companies such as Chevron

would not be affected by the global economic slowdown.

Acknowledging the international implications of U.S.

economic slowdown/growth, the Ambassador reiterated that

the President\’s foremost priority is to revitalize the

flagging economy.

 

————————–

Mil-Mil relations

————————–

 

7. (C) Both the PM and the Ambassador agreed that mil-mil

cooperation, particularly in the areas of demining and

peacekeeping operations, is a source of strong bilateral

cooperation which will undoubtedly continue. He pointed to

U.S.-supported Cambodian participation in Global

Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (GPOI) exercises in

Mongolia and Bangladesh as two examples of welcome U.S.

military assistance. (NOTE: Cambodia will host the GPOI

peacekeepers\’ Capstone Exercise in 2010. END NOTE.) In

keeping with the theme of changed perceptions, the PM noted

that in the past, the presence of a U.S. Navy ship in

international waters near Cambodia was greeted with

nervousness and uncertainty. Now, Navy ships are welcomed

with open arms when they berth at the port in

Sihanoukville, both for the generosity of the medical and

other humanitarian projects they engage in during their

visit as well as the opportunity for cultural and economic

interchange between military personnel and the Cambodians

living in the area. Aircraft based on the ships are

permitted flight clearance throughout the country to engage

in humanitarian missions in remote areas, even making one

stop in 2007 to the Prime Minister\’s hometown.

 

———————————————

Foreign Policy Under the Obama Administration

———————————————

 

8. (C) The Ambassador drew attention to the President\’s

goal of enhancing our partnerships in Asia, in the context

of reviving the primacy of American diplomacy. The PM

remarked that \”when the U.S. lifts one leg, all its weight

shifts to the other\” as a way of saying that U.S. behavior

has an impact on the rest of the world, and even small

countries such as Cambodia monitor and are affected by U.S.

policies. He noted regional concerns such as nuclear

 

PHNOM PENH 00000079 003 OF 003

 

proliferation in North Korea, and said that Cambodia will

be paying close attention to U.S. policy there and in other

areas further afield including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and

recent developments in Gaza.

 

——————————————-

Cambodia\’s Role in International Community

——————————————-

 

9. (C) The PM was at pains to point out that while

Cambodia is a small country, it has a role to play in the

international arena. He noted its membership in the non-

aligned movement and its active role in ASEAN. Even though

Cambodia itself has not been a victim of terrorism, the PM

acknowledged the importance of counterterrorism cooperation

as a responsibility shared by all members of the global

community. He underscored the appointment of U.S.

Ambassador to ASEAN Scot Marciel as a positive sign of

America\’s increased engagement with both ASEAN and the

region in general. He also noted with satisfaction that

Cambodia, once considered a \”victim\” of landmines requiring

assistance from others, is now contributing its expertise

by sending teams of deminers to Sudan as part of

international peacekeeping efforts.

 

10. (C) Comment: Hun Sen appeared well-briefed and was

relaxed and loquacious. While the meeting did not focus in

detail on any particular subject, the warmth of the Prime

Minister\’s greeting and tenor of his comments clearly

indicated his pleasure at the Ambassador\’s appointment and

the high premium he places on the bilateral relationship.

He spoke at great length about the value of the Peace Corps

and the value of more people-to-people contacts. The PM

expressed his enthusiasm for discussing an array of issues

with the Ambassador in more substance and detail in future

(gushingly stating that he spends more of his time with the

American Ambassador than with any other members of the

diplomatic community). While there will certainly be

subjects on which the U.S. and Cambodia do not see eye-to-

eye, the nature of the relationship has evolved into a more

multi-faceted, mature one in which frank discussion is

valued. The PM was pleased to hear the Ambassador declare

her commitment to shift the perception of Cambodia\’s

condition from one rooted in its difficult past to one

which focuses on its future, and pledged that it will be

\”our task\” to work on that transformation in attitudes

together.

 

Rodley

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Written by thaicables

July 19, 2011 at 6:30 am

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