US Ambassador Kenneth Quinn said Thursday that Washington was pleased with the formation of the new government but that decisions on the resumption of non-humanitarian aid had not yet been made.
“Many programs have been turned off for some time now, and before they get turned back on it will take some effort and some review,” the ambassador said in response to a question at the Hotel Le Royal.
Quinn was chairing a panel on the history of US-Cambodian relations marking the 48th anniversary of the opening of the first US diplomatic mission in Cambodia.
The senior government participant was architect Vann Molyvann, an outgoing minister of state who remains the top Cambodian official in charge of the temples of Angkor and an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen. He suggested that Washington resume full aid.
“In the wake of recovering its democracy, Cambodia is receiving the same comprehension and support from the US government as it did in the ’50s during its struggle against colonialism,” Vann Molyvann said.
The US was one of the major aid donors to Cambodia before July 1997, when factional fighting between rival military and police units led to Washington slashing millions of dollars of non-humanitarian aid. Panelist David Chandler, an American historian of Cambodia, said US policy toward Cambodia is now finally driven by the needs of Cambodians, after years of being motivated largely by a desire during the Cold War to outmaneuver communist Russia and China.
Dignitaries including Environment Minister Mok Mareth, Information Minister Lu Laysreng, Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Uch Kim An, National Election Committee Vice Chairman Kassie Neou, and Lakhan Mehrotra, the personal representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Cambodia, attended the two-hour seminar.
Quinn, who founded the US Embassy Historical Preservation Program in 1996, told the audience there was no official US presence anywhere in Indochina until 1889, when a French commercial agent was appointed to serve US interests in the region from Saigon.
The first US Legation in Phnom Penh was set up in 1950. Relations between the two countries since have been tumultuous. US policy toward Cambodia in the late 1960s and early 1970s has been cited by historians as indirectly assisting the radical Khmer Rouge in gaining power, with tragic consequences.