Departing US ambassador hails growing Laos-US relations

US Ambassador to Laos, Rena Bitter

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN): Laos-US cooperation and relations have improved after the two nations decided to leave the past behind, according to the United States’ top diplomat in Laos.

“I think it is a great time in the bilateral relationship. Certainly it is the best we’ve seen in many, many years, ” the departing US Ambassador to Laos, Rena Bitter, told the Vientiane Times on Wednesday (Jan 22) when asked to evaluate the current state of Laos-US relations.

The US ambassador gave a farewell media interview at the Economic Daily newspaper on Jan 22 before ending her diplomatic mission in Laos at the end of this month.

In the interview, Bitter said Laos-US cooperation and relations had grown since the two government leaders signed a new Laos-US comprehensive partnership in 2016, which officially kicked off a new era of cooperation.

The idea behind this new partnership is to put the past behind and focus on a shared future that benefits the people of the two nations, the ambassador said.

Bitter said that during her three-year diplomatic mission, she enjoyed good cooperation and support from her Lao partners, which made a significant contribution to improving Laos-US cooperation and relations.

When asked about the key achievement which made her most proud during her mission in Laos, she said it was increasing US assistance to Laos and the commitment to offer Laos a grant of about US$90 million in the coming years. This assistance will help the Lao government to achieve its development goals in the fields of UXO clearance and nutrition improvement, she said, emphasising that US aid to Laos was not a loan but a form of investment in the Lao people.

Another aim of the United States’ assistance is to help the landlocked country develop in a sustainable way and have the capacity to express an independent voice within the Asean community, Bitter said.

In addition to the Official Development Assistance given by the US to Laos, she was proud of the fact that the US Embassy supported more than 100 Lao students to study and visit the US each year.

The embassy also provides free English language courses for Lao people, especially for young people.

“I am really proud of our ability to help young Lao people to improve their language capabilities because I do believe that it is really the key to having more opportunities in Laos, ” the ambassador said, adding that this offer for young people was something their parents never had access to.

Alongside the United States’ support for the Lao government, Bitter said the embassy worked with Lao partners to facilitate US businesspeople to seek investment opportunities in Laos, adding that she acknowledged the Lao government’s efforts to improve the business climate to attract foreign investment.

She also said the US government was looking for more tools that could improve the business environment for US companies, especially by reducing the investment risk in Laos. When asked about her key message for her successor, she replied that Laos was changing dynamically so it would be an exciting time for the new US ambassador to work in Laos. - Vientiane Times/Asia News Network

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