(AFP) – Feb 6, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Wednesday announced a resumption of military aid to Thailand suspended in the wake of the 2006 coup, after a democratically elected government was unveiled in Bangkok.
Washington is also sending Christopher Hill, the State Department's pointman for East Asian affairs, to Bangkok to help advance relations with its oldest treaty ally in the region.
Deputy US Secretary of State John Negroponte "has determined and certified to Congress that a democratically elected government has taken office in Thailand," Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said Wednesday.
It effectively removes legal restrictions on assistance to the government of Thailand imposed following the September 2006 coup, Casey said.
"We congratulate Thailand's new cabinet on its inauguration, and the Thai people on their success in re-establishing an elected government," Casey said.
The action came as Thailand's newly elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Wednesday unveiled his cabinet that was sworn in by King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a brief ceremony inside his Bangkok palace.
The new foreign minister, Noppadon Pattama, welcomed the resumption of aid.
"It is good that when we return to democracy we benefit from such an action, which is a positive development for the country," he told reporters.
The United States suspended about 24 million dollars in military aid in protest at the ouster of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup in September 2006.
The aid cut-off involved foreign military financing, international military education and training, and peacekeeping operations.
The sanctions were imposed automatically under a US law which forbids assistance to the government of a country where an elected leader has been deposed in a coup.
But Washington maintained aid for counter-terrorism, combating weapons of mass destruction and fighting communicable diseases. It also continued its annual "Cobra Gold" live-fire exercises, the largest American war games in the region.
Casey said the United States looked forward to "engaging across a range of issues" with Prime Minister Samak's government, "in keeping with the proud history of our warm friendship and strong alliance."
Hill told reporters that he would visit Bangkok on February 28-29 for talks with Thai leaders before a trip to Vietnam.
He described the return to civilian rule in Thailand as a "very, very positive step" and said, "obviously we are moving to implement all our commitments as soon as possible."
It was not clear whether the United States would immediately seek to resume negotiations with Thailand for a free trade agreement.
FTA talks stalled out shortly before the Thai coup, which made it impossible to proceed, but US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said last year Washington had not given up having such a deal.
Free trade talks, which began in 2003, had been dogged by controversy, particularly over patent protections for US pharmaceuticals.
The United States is Thailand's largest trading partner, with annual two-way trade reaching more than 30 billion dollars, according to US government figures.
The new Thai cabinet has brought close aides to Thaksin back to government.
Samak claimed the defence ministry for himself, becoming only the third civilian ever to hold the job in Thailand.
Noppadon, the new foreign minister, is an Oxford-educated lawyer who had been defending Thaksin against corruption charges brought by the previous military regime. He resigned as Thaksin's lawyer after receiving his cabinet post.
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