Thu 21 Dec 2006
Filed under: International,News
Washington: The incoming head of the US House of Representatives’ top foreign affairs panel has vowed to pursue a “more diplomatic, respectful and listening posture” with Asia in a bid to enhance ties with the region.
But lawmaker Tom Lantos of the Democratic party, which wrests control of Congress from President George W. Bush’s Republicans in January, said he would not waver in upholding human rights in the region, where China, North Korea and Myanmar notably have come under the spotlight for alleged abuses.
Lantos, who takes over from retiring Republican Henry Hyde as chairman of the House international relations committee, said he planned to make his third visit to North Korea in the first half of 2007 as part of a bid to emphasize to the Bush administration that direct talks was essential to woo the reclusive state to abandon its nuclear weapons drive.
The United States, which has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, only talks to North Korea within the context of the China-hosted multilateral dialogue aimed at disbanding Pyongyang’s atomic program.
“In general, to whatever extent the chairman of the international relations committee has impact on foreign policy, I personally will look forward to promoting a more multilateral foreign policy, a foreign policy which listens to our Asian friends and allies with respect and an open mind,” he said.
“None of us has a monopoly on virtue or wisdown and I’m always convinced, everytime I go to Asia, that I learn a great deal from my Asian friends and interlocutors,” said the 78-year old Lantos, who is set to enter his 26th year as Congressman.
“So, I hope the posture will be a more diplomatic, respectful and listening posture,” he said, adding “the tone and tenure of US foreign policy to whatever extent I can influence will improve vis-a-vis Asia.”
Lantos, a key architect of the landmark legislation passed this month to launch nuclear commerce with India, plans to travel to the region this year aside from his trip to North Korea.
His previous trips covered China, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan.
Lantos said he had held talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on various foreign policy issues, including North Korea.
Asked whether he expected any changes in the Bush administration’s policy, he would only say, “When we see a change, we will see it together.”
Lantos had been pushing for the top US negotiator in the six-party nuclear talks, Christopher Hill, to visit North Korea.
“(The visit is) not as alternative to the six-party talks but as a compliment to the six-party talks,” he said referring to the three-year-old forum involving the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia aimed at disbanding Pyongyang’s atomic program.
Lantos, born in Hungary and the only survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to the US Congress, also pledged to work actively to end rights abuses in Asia but cautioned against any quick successes.
“The achievement of human rights goals almost invariably is a very long process,” he said. “We would like to have a magic wand to bring human rights improvements everywhere. But we need to have some patience in dealing with these issues… and we must learn this principally from Asians.”
Lantos also said it would be in “Japan’s best interest to put the past behind it,” referring to prime ministerial visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which honours top war criminals among the dead of the World War II.
The visits had angered Asian neighbours.
To underline his human rights concerns in Vietnam, Lantos twice voted against a bill recently to normalize trade relations with the communist state. Congress finally passed it in early December by a close margin.
In addition, he goes to the Myanmar embassy in Washington nearly every year to deliver birthday cards for Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Yangon.