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Since my first meeting with this group over three years ago, when I signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Thailand, the United States has made a sustained all-out effort to build an enduring multifaceted relationship with ASEAN. Over the summer I led a large delegation of American business executives and senior government officials to the first ever U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum, reflecting the increasingly important economic dimension of our partnership. And this year, we are expanding our cooperation on education to the U.S.-ASEAN Fulbright Initiative, and the Brunei-U.S. English Language Enrichment Project. We’ve also committed substantial new resources to the Lower Mekong Initiative, which is helping narrow ASEAN’s development gap. And we welcomed in our colleagues from Nay Pyi Taw to the meeting.
Earlier this month, I had the chance to visit the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta for the second time, and I thank the Secretary General for his warm and gracious hospitality. I’m pleased that the ASEAN committee of permanent representatives is visiting the United States this week for discussions on a wide range of issues.
Our increasing engagement with ASEAN is part of a broader effort by the United States to deepen our commitment to the Asia Pacific region. We want to work with all of you to build a stable and just regional order that will benefit every nation. And that means supporting mature and effective institutions that can mobilize common action and settle disputes peacefully. It means working toward rules and norms that help manage relations between peoples, markets, and nations and safeguard universal rights. And it means establishing security arrangements that provide stability and build trust.
Our relationship with ASEAN is at the heart of all these efforts, including our participation in the East Asia Summit. As President Obama made clear at last year’s meeting, the United States supports the East Asia Summit as the Asia Pacific’s premier institution for political and strategic issues, and we believe it is the capstone of increasingly mature and effective regional architecture.
We are pleased to see that the East Asia Summit is making progress across an expanding range of issues, from the energy ministerial in Brunei to the education ministerial in Indonesia. As we head toward the November leaders meetings, it is important we stay focused on pursuing a clear agenda and producing concrete results. We continue to support the priorities put forward in the Bali Declaration last year. And in particular, the areas that President Obama stressed should be at the top of our agenda together: disaster relief, nonproliferation, and maritime security. Now let me just say a quick work about each of those, and then a fourth we hope to elevate.
First, disaster relief. From the tsunami in Aceh in 2004 and on the islands off of Thailand and in Sri Lanka and so much else in the region, to the floods in the Philippines and Thailand again last year, to the triple disaster in Japan, to a cycle of storms and flooding, we have seen a lot of natural disasters in this region. But we also have seen a coordinated international response. The United States has been eager to work with our partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum and to participate in and help lead disaster relief exercises. We continue to believe it is imperative to develop a regional, legal framework to support the delivery and acceptance of emergency relief supplies, services, and personnel following major disasters. So we would urge all nations to endorse the Rapid Disaster Response Agreement as a first step.
The second priority is nonproliferation. Let me underscore it’s essential for all ASEAN and East Asia Summit nations to remain firm and unified in pursuit of the peaceful, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We also look to all ASEAN members to universalize the additional protocol and further strengthen domestic export control laws.
And I think it’s also fair to say that our responsibilities cannot end with the immediate neighborhood. Unfortunately, yesterday the President of Iran provided another reminder of why the international community continues to have serious concerns about his country’s nuclear program. As President Obama told the General Assembly, America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy. We believe there is still time and space to do so, but that time is not unlimited and that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The best way to achieve a diplomatic solution we all see is for the international community, including ASEAN, to stay united. If we ease the pressure or waver in our resolve, Iran will have less incentive to negotiate in good faith or take the necessary steps to address the international community’s concerns.
The third priority is maritime security, and we look forward to the expanded ASEAN maritime forum next week in Manila. All 18 East Asia Summit states have been invited for in-depth discussions on how to improve safety on the region’s waterways, combat piracy, protect the environment, and we are encouraged by the recent informal dialogue between ASEAN and China as they work toward a comprehensive code of conduct for the South China Sea as a means to prevent future tension in the region.
As I have said many times, the United States does not take a position on competing territorial claim over land features, but we do have a national interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea. The Untied States continues to support ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles, which we believe will help reduce tensions and pave the way for a comprehensive code of conduct for addressing disputes without threats, coercion, or use of force.
Finally this year, we hope to focus our EAS partners on the challenge of wildlife trafficking and the related issues of protecting biodiversity and preventing the emergence of pandemic diseases. The illegal trade in protected and endangered species is now estimated between $7- and $10 billion dollars a year. It is increasingly intertwined with other illicit activities that undermine regional security and prosperity, including organized crime. Earlier this month, APEC economies agreed to take steps to stop poachers and the United States is eager to work with our partners in ASEAN as well, developing new initiative, building on the good work of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network.
So we have a full plate in front of us, but that’s no surprise. ASEAN is a dynamic and crucial institution in a dynamic and crucial region of the world. The United States is committed to working with you very closely as we head toward the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh in November. I thank you very much, and please let me now turn to the Foreign Minister.