Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The flurry of diplomatic activity in the region will bring next week the highest US official yet to meet with the Aquino administration.

And he won't be your typical Washington functionary.

William Burns is US Undersecretary for Political Affairs.

He was Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008, and reports in Washington DC suggest he played a big role in the recent “spy swap” between the US and Russia.

He is scheduled to arrive for a two-day visit to Manila starting Tuesday.

“He will consult with officials of the new Aquino administration and discuss ways to advance our cooperation with an important ally,” Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley explained in a briefing today.

He is considered a key operative of American foreign policy.

Aside from his alleged role in the spy swap episode, he was also involved in efforts to pressure Iran to abandon its plan to build a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Burns was formerly Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

Diplomatic sources say his visit to Manila will be part of a “feeling out” process with the country’s new circle of leaders.

This, they say, is a normal step for establishing personal relations with the three-week old Aquino administration.

Nonetheless, they say it's significant that such a ranking US official was calling on Malacanang so early in the new administration.

The Philippines and Thailand are the only US treaty allies in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Burns is expected to reiterate President Obama’s invitation for President Aquino to visit Washington DC.

Mr. Burns’ presence in the region coincides with a series of events aimed at reaffirming US commitment to Asian security.

A rarity, State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be together in a foreign capital to attend rites for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War in Seoul next week.

Filipino troops, including a young army lieutenant who would later become Philippine president, Fidel Ramos, fought in that war as part of a US-led United Nations coalition.

Secretaries Clinton’s and Gates’ presence is calculated to deliver a firm message of US support for South Korea, which recently lost 46 sailors in a torpedo attack blamed on North Korea.

They will meet with top South Korean diplomatic and defense officials.

The US and South Korea plan to hold war games on the Korean Peninsula despite protests from both North Korea and China.

Secretary Clinton will later fly to Vietnam to attend a post-ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Mr. Burns will be simultaneously travelling to Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and finally, the Philippines.

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