Newest US Ambassador ‘Thrilled’ About Return to Cambodia

“I certainly hope that we will be able to make an additional contribution [to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal], and we have certainly put in a request for additional funds for the tribunal because I think it is a very worthy activity and something that deserves our support….”

The inauguration of US Presi­dent Barack Obama on Tuesday in Washington was echoed by some local change here in Cambodia as well.

Carol Rodley, 54, officially be­came the newest US ambassador to Cambodia after presenting her credentials to King Norodom Sihamoni during a morning ceremony at the Royal Palace on Tuesday.

Rodley was nominated for the position by US President George W Bush in June, and was confirmed by the US Senate in Octo­ber. A veteran foreign service officer, Rodley is already a familiar face in Phnom Penh, having worked as the US Embassy’s deputy chief of mission from 1997 to 2000 and speaks conversational Khmer.

Rodley has worked for the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, and in the intelligence and research department of the US State Depart­ment. Her most recent post was as a faculty adviser at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, where she trained US diplomats headed for Afghanistan.

The Cambodia Daily’s Katie Nelson spoke with Ambassador Rodley on Tuesday afternoon at the Embassy.

Q: Why did you want to come back to Cambodia?

A: It wasn’t about wanting to, I actually wasn’t expecting to come back here. And when I got the call, saying that the secretary [of state] wanted to nominate me for this job, I was quite surprised. But the minute I thought about it, [I was] very thrilled at the idea of coming back here.

Q: Have you noticed any big changes since you’ve been back?

A: The changes are just amazing. I was actually astounded by the amount of development that had taken place here in the last eight years, and I was surprised to be surprised because I kept in touch over the eight years, to a cer­tain extent, with what was go­ing on in Cambodia.

Q: Today is a big day in the US. There is a lot going on in Wash­ington [because of the inauguration of US President Barack Obama.] Can you talk to me a little about how you envision or expect things to change, if at all, with the new administration regarding international relations and your role here?

A: It is an exciting and a historic day. It’s exciting to me on a personal level because one of my children is black. I have a mixed race child. So there’s an element of excitedness that’s very personal to me about this historic day. But on the foreign policy side, I would say that one of the things that characterizes US foreign policy broadly is its bipartisan nature. And even though the administration coming into office today is of a different party than the previous administration, there will be much more continuity than change in our foreign policy.

Q: In March of last year the US State Department released the 2008 International Narcotics Con­trol Strategy report, and it gave Cambodia a pretty mixed review. It talked about some of the problems with corruption, it specified a weak judicial system, and it talked about low counter-narcotics funding levels. I was wondering if you could talk to me about crime in Cam­bodia and corruption, and what—if any—role the US Embassy plays in addressing it.

A: Maybe I’ll start with corruption. Because corruption is a very big concern of mine and I think that of all the things looming out there on the horizon that could threaten the progress that Cam­bodia has made—including its pro­gress in economic development—that corruption is the one that I worry about the most. More even than the global economic downturn. Corruption makes Cambodia a less desirable place for foreign investment, but corruption also it affects the relationship between the government and the people of Cam­bodia. I think that it needs to be a priority of the government to get a handle on corruption and quickly.

They need to pass the anti-corruption law that has been in draft form for some time because, that’s really, that would be the foundation for a lot of activity that both foreign donors and Cambodians would want the government to take….

The drug picture has changed a fair bit since I was here the last time. And I mean my understanding is that these days it’s all about methamphetamine….

It’s not a problem that was confined within international borders and it never was. When the issue was heroin, the heroin came out of Burma and flowed through other countries in the region and out to markets in a variety of places. So I guess we all have a role to play, but I’m not sure our role is really the critical one there.

Q: The US pledged $1.8 million in September for the Khmer Rouge tribunal. And this was the first direct funding to the court from the US. At the time, [US Deputy Secretary of State John] Negro­ponte said that more funding would be coming. Can you tell me a little bit about the status of this and how, if at all, the kickback and corruption allegations at the court could potentially affect US funding.

A: Our budget isn’t settled for 2009, so I can’t tell you anything definitely about an additional contribution. But I certainly hope that we will be able to make an additional contribution, and we have certainly put in a request for additional funds for the tribunal because I think it is a very worthy activity and something that deserves our support….

I would say that I don’t think that it’s a surprise to anyone that there are problems with the court, like the problem on the administrative side of the court. When we started down this road toward a tribunal, everyone knew it was going to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, it would have been done 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, and everyone involved in this knew it wasn’t going to be perfect either.

But despite its imperfections, despite its difficulties, it’s really important in my view and worthy of US support, continued support.

So I intend to lobby strongly for an additional contribution to the tribunal. At the same time, I in­tend to work with my colleagues here to reach a resolution to be able to fix the corruption problem on the administrative side of the court.

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