Cablegate: Senator Webb Meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen

DE RUEHPF #0602/01 2311123
O 191123Z AUG 09




E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/19/2019

REF: STATE 83598


1. (C) SUMMARY: Senator Jim Webb concluded a successful
one-day visit to Cambodia August 18 on a positive note during
a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen in which there was
general agreement on new ways to approach Burma. Webb
detailed his interest in the region and in stronger relations
with Cambodia. Hun Sen repeated support for the ASEAN
position on Burma, saying that Aung San Suu Kyi should be
freed, the military government should be dissolved, and
elections held. He agreed that ASEAN should do more to
influence the Burmese junta, noted that sanctions could only
drive Burma into the arms of China and India, and outlined
possible options for Burma toward planned 2010 elections.
Hun Sen praised warming relations with the United States,
citing CT cooperation, the Peace Corps, and a Cambodia-hosted
GPOI exercise in 2010. He also related Cambodia's efforts to
achieve resolution of a border dispute with Thailand by
peaceful means. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) Accompanied by the Ambassador, Senator Webb called on
the Prime Minister in his National Assembly office, where he
was joined by MFA Secretary of State Ouch Borith, Senior
Minister and National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) Deputy
Director Om Yentieng, and foreign relations advisor Srey
Thamarong. Recounting his 40 years experience in the region
and noting his current position as Chairman of the SFRC East
Asian and Pacific Affairs Sub-Committee, Senator Webb
explained his abiding interest in maintaining U.S.
involvement in Southeast Asia, particularly in the five
mainland countries he is visiting on this trip. He said that
the new importance placed on the region was shared by fellow
Senators and noted that he would report to the Secretary upon
his return, especially on means to improve bilateral
relations. Based on his long experience in Vietnam, he
asserted that the U.S. needed to engage Cambodia in the same
way it did in Vietnam 12 years ago. While the present state
of relations with Cambodia was "very good," he underscored
that the U.S. and Cambodia were set to mature into a more
positive and productive relationship.

3. (C) Hun Sen thanked the Senator for his interest in
Cambodia and the region, noting that since President Obama
took office there has been a noticeable improvement in
American interest in Southeast Asia. Recalling former
President Clinton's past visit to Phnom Penh and his recent
success in North Korea, Hun Sen attributed the more intense
focus on Asia to new leadership in the U.S. and also to the
continued interest in fighting terrorism on the global stage.
Citing his three sons' experience in CT-related military
endeavors -- one leading the U.S.-supported National Counter
Terrorism Security Forces (NCTSF) and another studying at the
U.S. National Defense University -- he said that relations
between Cambodia and the U.S. were at a high point.

New Embassy and Old Kerry Mission: Strong Bilateral Ties
--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (C) Hun Sen remarked on the new embassy compound (NEC)
next to Phnom Penh's historic Wat Phnom as a tangible
indicator of deepening relations. Before, the USG never
owned property in Cambodia, he said. And if it were anyone
but the American government making the request for such a
historic site, he said that the government would likely have
not allowed an embassy to be built there. He recalled the
difficult U.S.-Cambodia relationship in the 1960's and early
1970's, when Cambodian youths saw the American embassy as a
symbol of hatred and were incited to burn it down, noting
that he was one of those youths. Now, nearly forty years
later, the embassy is a sign of a permanent U.S. presence
welcomed by all Cambodians, and the government now only
wished to protect it so that the U.S. could broaden its work
in Cambodia.

5. (C) The Prime Minister conveyed his regards to SFRC
Chairman John Kerry, whose helpful mission to Cambodia a
decade ago was cited as another example of enduring ties.
Hun Sen recalled Kerry's two successes with the Khmer Rouge
Tribunal: developing a new "super-majority" vote formula that
helped define the hybrid court (with a majority of national
judges) on terms acceptable to the UN, and the implementation
of a Pre-Trial Chamber to decide on the scope of
prosecutions. The formulas Senator Kerry helped develop have
turned out to be significant to the procedures of the court,
he said, concluding that Senator Kerry had always sought the
means to make the court a success.

PHNOM PENH 00000602 002 OF 003

Burma: Flexibility a Success

6. (C) Hun Sen praised Senator Webb for his successful trip
to Burma, noting that he had not been able to see both Than
Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi during his own previous visits.
The additional success in obtaining the release of an
American prisoner showed that it was not at all an ordinary
mission. This success was based on a more flexible position
resulting in "no loss at all" to the U.S., Hun Sen said.

7. (C) Senator Webb recounted his last trip to Burma eight
years ago when a business run by an American friend was
suffering in part due to sanctions, with consequences being
felt by the local Burmese staff his friend had trained.
Looking at Burma through the prism of his experience in
Vietnam, the Senator opined that Vietnam's greater exposure
to the outside world had been better for the Vietnamese
people than when trade sanctions were imposed. He is now
bringing the same approach to Burma, he explained. Just as
in Vietnam, he was trying to speak to all parties in Burma
and to deliver the same message consistently. He believed
the Burmese government understood this approach, which is why
he was able to see both Tan Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Options for Burma's Future

8. (C) Senator Webb explained that he understood from
meetings in Bangkok that ASEAN leaders were considering
sending a joint letter to leadership in Burma seeking amnesty
for Aung San Suu Kyi. The Senator urged Hun Sen to consider
joining in that letter. Recounting that it was difficult for
other ASEAN nations to have a dialogue with Burma's
leadership, Hun Sen said that Cambodia adopted the ASEAN
position on next steps for Burma: release Aung San Suu Kyi,
get rid of the military government, and embrace democracy.
However, he underscored that sanctions were of no use to
ASEAN's interests; they have caused the group to have less
influence over developments in Burma, and have pushed Burma
closer to China and India.

9. (C) On the upcoming elections, Hun Sen outlined two
options: (1) release ASSK and allow her to participate in
elections; or, (2) encourage elections with participation by
Aung San Suu Kyi's party: the National League for Democracy
(NLD). He asserted that the first option is preferable, for
both Burma and ASEAN, but at the very least, Burma must hold
elections with the participation of NLD. Then all can say
that a vote for NLD is a vote for Aung San Suu Kyi. If her
party were to win the election, then it could amend the
constitution to release her. Hun Sen added that even if
under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi should allow her party
to participate because it would benefit from her network of
support throughout the country.

10. (C) Paraphrasing points from reftel, Senator Webb agreed
that Burma should release Aung San Suu Kyi and at the same
time call on her party to participate in elections. Such a
move might give the government credibility, he noted. Even
if the party chose not to participate, the world would be
aware of the circumstances, he added. More importantly,
there was great significance to ASEAN saying something about
the issue. The top leadership of Burma is very isolated, and
Senator Webb emphasized the value of their hearing ASEAN
views. Hun Sen replied that ASEAN leaders always try to
share their views with Burma and that they tried to help push
Burma's leaders. Although in the past ASEAN could not speak
without offending Burma, now they will work in a concerted
effort because there is only one year left before the planned

Cambodia's Future With Thailand and the United States
--------------------------------------------- --------

11. (C) Turning to Cambodia, Hun Sen noted that the nation
shared a different fate from Vietnam and Laos in that after
the Indochina war, Cambodians suffered under a regime of
genocide. Phnom Penh 30 years ago had no people. Now, only
11 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia was
beginning to emerge into a more sustained period of peace and
stability. His government was committed to rebuilding the
country, working with donors, and developing a nation run by
the rule of law.

12. (C) As for its border dispute with Thailand, Hun Sen
said that Cambodia was trying to be patient and to solve the

PHNOM PENH 00000602 003 OF 003

border problems by peaceful means. While the troops are
trying to shake hands, have celebrations together, and avoid
armed clashes, the RGC was looking at "the whole jungle and
not just one tree." First, Cambodia was trying to contain
the border dispute to just one area. Secondly, Cambodia was
actively promoting cross-border exchanges, tourism, trade and
investment with Thailand. Cambodia was waiting for the Thai
parliament to adopt agreed-upon measures to re-deploy troops
now at the border, to begin a program of landmine removal,
and to work together on border demarcation. (NOTE: These
measures have been adopted in bilaterally negotiated joint
communiques that have received RGC approval and reportedly
await only the approval of the Thai parliament. END NOTE.)

13. (C) Hun Sen then praised the evolution of
Cambodian-United States relations. Again referring to his
youth when Cambodians were incited to demonstrate against the
American embassy, he highlighted that now Cambodian youth are
being taught by Peace Corps volunteers who live alongside
them. Cambodian goods are now widely available in American
markets, and the Prime Minister asked Senator Webb to
continue to support the import of Cambodian goods and to
encourage American investment in order to help employment in
Cambodia. He also cited progress in other areas. Next year,
Cambodia would play host to many nations participating in the
GPOI Capstone exercises, largely with the help of the United
States. Cambodia also joined cooperatively in
counter-terrorism efforts, such as a regional CT seminar
sponsored by the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies
(APCSS) which he had helped open with the Ambassador the day

Aid with PROTECT Act Cases

14. (C) Hun Sen told Senator Webb and the Ambassador that he
agreed to the Embassy's request to remove three Americans to
the U.S. to face charges of illicit sexual conduct under the
PROTECT Act. Based on advice from the RGC Ministry of
Justice, Hun Sen clarified that the U.S. should seek the
"return" of the individuals under escort by U.S. law
enforcement authorities, rather than their "expulsion." The
Ambassador thanked Hun Sen for his concurrence, and promised
expeditious follow-up on the U.S. side.

15. (C) Senator Webb and Hun Sen concluded with an exchange
of pleasantries in Vietnamese. Hun Sen remarked that he
learned his Vietnamese while in a Vietnamese jail in 1977
(NOTE: just after fleeing from the Khmer Rouge Eastern Zone
to escape KR purges. END NOTE), and noted that Senator
Webb's Vietnamese was better than his own.

16. (C) COMMENT: Hun Sen clearly was prepared to engage
productively on Burma, and sees a role for the RGC as a
bridge between the Burmese junta and ASEAN given Cambodia's
own progress toward democracy since the 1991 Paris Peace
Accords. On the bilateral relationship, Hun Sen hit all the
high marks and was clearly motivated to stay on message and
outline a positive vision for Cambodia's future. Senator
Webb's overall presentation -- especially his emphasis on
democracy in Burma -- provided Hun Sen with welcome insight
about Washington's engagement in Southeast Asia. The
Senator's approach to engagement likely was helpful in
securing agreement to turn over custody of three Americans to
U.S. law enforcement after several weeks of ponderous RGC
consideration. It has been nearly two years since the last
Congressional visit to Cambodia. Senator Webb's visit and
his practical engagement throughout the course of a single
day has likely reinforced both the equilibrium and depth of
the bilateral agenda so that, while we understand clearly we
will not always agree, our objectives for the future of the
country and the region are not in doubt.

© Scoop Media

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