Monday, November 19, 2012

Cambodia: President Obama Attends East Asia Summit Dinner

After pressing Cambodian Prime Minister on civil rights and reform, President dines with ASEAN leaders...
President Obama arrived in Cambodia late on Monday afternoon for the US-ASEAN Summit, following a quick but historic six-hour stop in Burma.  His visit to both countries are the first by a sitting US president.  As is tradition, in the evening the President and his fellow ASEAN leaders donned special colorful shirts for the East Asia Summit Dinner held at the Diamond Island Convention Center in the capital city of Phnom Penh.  The President wore a shiny gray shirt as he toasted with his host, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (above).

After first posing for a "family photo," the leaders paraded into the vast dinner auditorium lit by orange, green and yellow lights.  The President sat down at the flower-laden head Table with Hun Sen to his left and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to his right; she was clad in an orange and red shirt.  Gillard has visited the President at the White House, and he reciprocated with a visit to Australia, and "they were soon laughing and smiling like reunited buddies with their heads leaned in toward one another," pool reported.

During his toast, Hun Sen congratulated President Obama on his reelection, and clinked glasses with Mr. Obama and Gillard.  A closed press bilateral meeting earlier on Monday at the Peace Palace with the Cambodian Prime Minister was "tense," according to a White House aide, who said the President had expressed "grave concerns" over Cambodia's civil rights record and the need for political reform.  President Obama "highlighted a set of issues that he's concerned about within Cambodia," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser.

"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," Rhodes said.

The pool was escorted out as the dinner began with Khmer dancers in lavish costumes and pointed hats taking the stage for a cultural performance.  (Above, the President arriving in the dinner hall with the Sultan of Brunei, at left)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is made up of the Brunei Darussalam, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Republic of Indonesia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Singapore, the Kingdom of Thailand and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.  The group issued the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration on Monday ahead of President Obama's visit.

On Tuesday morning, the President will participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership meeting at the Peace Palace, fooled by more meetings for the East Asia Summit.  Later, the President will meet and greet with United States Embassy personnel at Raffles Hotel. This visit is closed press.

In the evening, the President will depart Phnom Penh, Cambodia en route Washington, DC. The departure from Phnom Penh International Airport will be open press.

*Photos by Reuters/pool