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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the Foreign Ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to highlight the increasing cooperation between the United States and the countries of the Lower Mekong basin region. The July 23rd meeting in Phuket, Thailand was the first of its kind.
At that meeting, Secretary Clinton underlined the importance of the Lower Mekong region to the United States, as part of America's commitment to advance peace and prosperity in the Association of South East Asian Nations region as a whole. The Ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam welcomed closer cooperation with the U.S. on issues of mutual interest, including cross-border challenges related to the environment, health, education, and infrastructure development.
To expand cooperation on the environment, Secretary Clinton presented a proposal to develop a computer-based model called "Forecast Mekong," to illustrate the impact of climate change and other challenges to the sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin. Another program is an agreement between the Mekong River Commission and the Mississippi River Commission to pursue a "sister-river" partnership to improve the management of trans-boundary water resources.
The United States will continue to support projects that promote the sustainable use of forest and water resources, preserve the tremendous biodiversity of the Mekong Basin, and increase access to safe drinking water. The U.S. will spend more than $7 million in 2009 on environmental programs in the Mekong Region. In addition, Secretary Clinton is seeking Congressional approval for an additional $15 million in 2010 for assistance related to improving food security in Mekong countries.
U.S. health assistance to Mekong countries will total over $138 million in 2009 and will support HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, pandemic influenza programs, and efforts to treat drug-resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis. The U.S. will hold a "U.S.-Mekong Conference on Integrated Approaches to Infectious Disease" to consider how to make these efforts more effective.
In education, the U.S. is supporting more than 500 student and scholarly exchanges in the region in 2009; helping to support access to basic education and expand the availability of broadband Internet connections in rural communities. The U.S. also plans to hold a "U.S.-Mekong Forum on the Internet, Education and Development" to promote best practices and regional collaboration on the use of internet connectivity to foster development. U.S. education-related assistance in 2009 will total $16 million.
Closer cooperation between the U.S. and Lower Mekong nations is in the interest of the United States, the Lower Mekong nations, ASEAN and Asia as a whole.