US looks to deepen SEAsia commitment: Clinton

HANOI, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - The United States looked Thursday to deepen its renewed commitment to Southeast Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told her regional counterparts.

"United States is a Pacific nation and we are committed to being an active partner with ASEAN and with all of you," Clinton told ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

She reminded them that last year in Thailand the US "recommitted" to the region.

"Today we will discuss our progress and the concrete steps we are taking to make good on this promise, including new investments in shared priorities and new avenues for cooperation," she said.

The region of nearly 600 million people is America's sixth-largest export market and hosts more US business investment than China, she said.

"Our partnership is rooted in common interests," Clinton told her counterparts.

"We are committed to assisting the nations of Southeast Asia to remain strong and independent and that each nation enjoys peace, stability, prosperity and access to universal human rights."

Although her reference to human rights was a general one, the issue remains contentious while bilateral ties expand between Vietnam and the US 15 years after normalising relations following the Vietnam War.

The US embassy has often commented on rights issues in the country.

"We have consistently moved in the direction of engagement and cooperation, even on those issues where we disagree," Clinton said in Hanoi.

At a press conference after meeting her Vietnamese counterpart Pham Gia Khiem, Clinton said Vietnam "is on the path to becoming a great nation" with unlimited potential.

"And that is among the reasons why we express concern about arrest and conviction of people of peaceful dissent, attacks on religious groups and curbs on Internet freedom," she said.

Pham said that although the two sides have differences over rights, dialogue is the best way to enhance their mutual understanding.