Clinton to visit Laos, Egypt and Israel (AFP) AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE) By Jo Biddle 07/05/12)
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to become the first top US
diplomat to visit communist-run Laos in 57 years, as part of an eight-
nation tour that also takes her to Egypt and Israel, the State
Department announced Thursday.
"Clinton will travel to France, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos,
Cambodia, Egypt and Israel departing Washington, DC on July 5," said
a statement from State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland
released upon their departure.
Clinton was officially invited to Laos by counterpart Foreign
Minister Thongloun Sisoulith in 2010 when he made the first visit by
a top Laotian official to Washington since Soviet-backed communist
rebels swept to power and replaced the monarchy there in 1975.
US relations with Laos, while never severed, were long tense, in part
over its campaign against the Hmong hill people who assisted US
forces during the Vietnam War, along with uncertainties over American
troops missing in action.
But the United States established normal trade ties with Laos in 2004
and has recently looked at ways to help clean up abandoned ordnance
that continues to take a heavy civilian toll.
US forces dropped millions of bombs on the country to cut off North
Vietnam supply lines, which according to a 2010 survey have killed or
injured some 50,000 people in Laos.
The Laos stop forms part of an Asian swing that will also take in
Japan, Mongolia and Vietnam ahead of talks in Cambodia with the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and regional powers
On her way back from Asia, Clinton will make a two-day stop in
America´s key Middle Eastern ally Egypt, her first since President
Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood became the country´s first
Her last visit to Egypt came in March 2011, when she toured Cairo´s
Tahrir Square in the wake of the protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
Clinton wraps up her tour with a final two-day stop on July 16-17 in
Israel, "where she will be meeting with the Israeli leadership to
discuss peace efforts and a range of regional and bilateral issues of
mutual concern," according to Nuland´s statement.
It will be Clinton´s first visit to Israel in almost two years, since
"We can presume she will be visiting multiple sites in Israel,"
Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, told journalists in
Her opening stop though was France on Thursday for talks boycotted by
both China and Russia on how to end the 16-month conflict in Syria.
Friday´s "Friends of Syria" meeting is aimed at coordinating efforts
to stop the violence in the country that the London-based Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights says has claimed the lives of 16,500
While in Paris, Clinton will also meet Palestinian leader Mahmud
Abbas to discuss efforts to build trust with the Israelis following
an exchange of letters between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, the State Department said.
Observers say Clinton´s brief talks in Laos are likely to focus on
the US administration´s Lower Mekong Initiative as well as efforts to
fight drug trafficking. She may also seek to give fresh impetus to
American hopes to recover the remains of US troops killed there
during the Vietnam War.
The talks could also focus on Laos´s imminent entry to the World
In May, Laos said it had postponed construction of a controversial
dam on the Mekong, dismissing fears the work was going ahead despite
growing regional and international opposition.
The $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam is slated to be the first of 11 big
dams along the main stem of the 4,600 kilometer (2,850 mile) Mekong
River, which passes through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia
Laos is one of the poorest nations in the world, with just 6.5
million people, and sees hydropower as vital to its potential future
as the "battery of Southeast Asia," selling electricity to its more
But activists say the dam projects could spell disaster for the
roughly 60 million people who depend on the Mekong waterway -- the
world´s largest inland fishery.
President Barack Obama´s administration launched the Lower Mekong
Initiative in hopes of supporting the environment, health and
education in the populous region as part of a renewed effort to build
relations with Southeast Asia.
It was unclear if Clinton would also raise the issue of the Hmong
minority during her trip.
Some 250,000 Hmong have resettled in the United States and often
speak of persecution in Laos, enlisting support of US lawmakers to
pressure the Vientiane government. (Copyright © 2012 Agence France
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