US Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in Phnom Penh to attend the Asean Regional Forum on Wednesday and the Asean Post-Ministerial Conference on Thursday, according to a US State Department news release issued Friday.
The State Department said Powell will be here to discuss “regional security issues and other international political and economic matters.”
Despite reports of US senators in Washington being extremely critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen—Senator Mitch McConnell, perhaps Hun Sen’s most bitter detractor, has grouped the government with Burma’s junta and described top Cambodian officials as a “shady cast of characters”—government officials sound eager to host Powell.
“We want him to visit Cambodia because we want to show that Cambodia has achieved peace,” said one official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government is generally optimistic about Powell’s visit.
“We know that there are some different views in Washington, and it is better to talk through each other than through the media…. We hope [Powell’s] visit will improve Washington’s view of Cambodia.”
Khieu Kanharith also confirmed the schedule for Powell given by the State Department, saying that Friday’s violent labor dispute would not affect Powell’s visit.
“We are sorry about what happened between the authorities and the workers, and it is a lesson for us to learn, to be careful about in the future,” he said. “We should not have allowed this to go on for such a long time. Some officials are a little bit careless, because they are so busy preparing for elections.”
Last week, the International Republican Institute’s director of of Asia Programs, Daniel Calingaert, recommended to members of the US Congress that Powell publicly meet with opposition leader Sam Rainsy during his visit here, so that Powell’s visit will not be “used to bolster the CPP’s electoral prospects.”
Ung Bun Ang, director of the Sam Rainsy Party election committee, said Sunday that he could not comment on whether a meeting between Sam Rainsy and Powell had been scheduled.
Another official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Sunday that the only one-on-one meetings tentatively scheduled for Powell are with Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer and Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda.
But Ok Socheat, a Funcinpec parliamentarian, said Sunday that US Ambassador Charles Ray told him last week that Powell wants to meet Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.