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U.S., Southeast Asian Nations Reaffirm Support for Regional Order

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, February 17, 2016 — Along with the leaders of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations, President Barack Obama yesterday reaffirmed their commitment to a regional order in which international rules and norms and the rights of all nations, large and small, are upheld.

The president spoke at the end of the U.S.-ASEAN conference in Rancho Mirage, California. ASEAN members are Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei and Burma.

“When ASEAN speaks with a clear, unified voice, it can help advance security, opportunity, and human dignity, not only for the more than 600 million people across ASEAN, but for people across the Asia-Pacific and around the world,” Obama said.

The leaders discussed many issues, from economic development to reinforcing the rule of law to security, the president said. In the security realm, he added, the leaders discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions. These steps include a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas, he said.

Freedom of Navigation, Unimpeded Commerce

“Freedom of navigation must be upheld, and lawful commerce should not be impeded,” Obama said. “I reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same.”

The United States will continue to work with allies and partners in the region to strengthen their maritime capabilities, Obama said. “We discussed how any disputes between claimants in the region must be resolved peacefully, through legal means, such as the upcoming arbitration ruling under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Seas, which the parties are obligated to respect and abide by,” he added.

Libya Situation

Reporters asked the president about the situation in Libya and potential further actions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “I have been clear from the outset that we will go after [ISIL] wherever it appears, the same way we went after al-Qaida wherever they appeared,” he said.

As evidence, he pointed to a U.S. attack that killed one of the terror group’s most prominent leaders in Libya. “We will continue to take actions where we’ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind,” he said. “And we are working with our other coalition partners to make sure that, as we see opportunities to prevent [ISIL] from digging in in Libya, we take them.”

Obama said the United States is working closely with other countries and the United Nations to get a government in place in Libya.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)