Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) talks with visiting US President Barack Obama at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo: Xinhua

What Obama said to HUN Sen

Source : The Cambodia Daily, Wednesday, November 21, 2012 (Volume 53 Issue 48)


This is a summary of U.S. President Barack Obama’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace on Monday by Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for Strategic Communications.


MR. RHODES : Okay, well, just to give you guys a quick readout of the president’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia. The president focused almost all of his comments on issues associated with human rights.


He began by expressing that his trip to Burma demonstrated the positive benefits that flow from countries moving down a path of political reform and increasing respect for human rights, indicating of course that Cambodia has much further to go on that set of issues.


He highlighted a set of issues that he was concerned about within Cambodia, in particular I would say the need for them to move toward elections that are fair and free, the need for an independent election commission associated with those elections, the need to allow for the release of political prisoners, and for opposition parties to be able to operate.


He highlighted, for instance, one case of a radio broadcaster who’s been sentenced to many years in prison simply for something that they said on the radio. He discussed the issue of land seizures, which have been a challenge for the people of Cambodia.


So he went through a set of areas where we have concerns about the human rights situation within Cambodia. Beyond that –again, that was the focus really of the president’s comments. He said that those types of issues are an impediment to the United States and Cambodia developing a deeper bilateral relationship.


Then Prime Minister Hun Sen raised a number of his own issues associated with their ongoing debt situation in Cambodia, their interest in close relations with the United States in a number of areas; but again, mostly the discussion initiated by the president focused on these issues associated with human rights.


QUESTION : How did Hun Sen respond to those – that criticism, that pressure, however you might phrase it?


MR. RHODED : Suffice to say, Hun Sen defended the fact that his – the fact that Cambodia has unique circumstance and that motivates some of these practices and policies.


But the president said, even as he understood that each country is different and each country is going to have different issues and concerns, there are certain universal principles that need to be upheld, including respect for human rights. And he also made the point that those countries that don’t uphold those principles are going to find it more difficult to integrate with the international community, to have a deeper relationship with the United States. So, again, in keeping with the notion that we want to send a signal – obviously with the trip to Burma in particular – that those countries that move in the right direction will find positive benefits flowing from those decision; those countries that don’t are going to be held back.


QUESTION : So was it tense conversation ? How would you characterize that part ?


MR. RHODED : I think it’s fair to say that – I think that’s a fair characterization. I mean, but at the same time, look, I don’t think that the prime minister was surprised necessarily that we were raising these issues. We raise them on a regular basis with their government. So I think, at the same time, this is going to be an ongoing process. Our point is that it’s necessary for us to continue to raise these issues directly with countries like Cambodia at the same time that we also foster positive examples that offer a better path so that people can see the results that come with reform.


QUESTION : Did he make any promises, Hun Sen, or any sense of opening ?


MR. RHODED : No, look, he once – he expressed a desire for a close relationship with the United States in some areas. So in that respect, he’s interested in cooperation with the United States on economic issues and issues related to their debt, on issues related to regional cooperation. Again, our point is that a significant constraint on that type of cooperation is going to continue to be the political situation within the country unless there is progress on some of these other issues.