IN OTHER WORDS : Ill-advised

On her recent visit to Thailand, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was there to show that she cares about Southeast Asia. If so, skipping this week’s meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Laos is a bad way to show it. No US secretary of state has missed the annual ASEAN meeting in more than two decades. The State Department says she is not going to ASEAN because of other “essential travel” in Africa, but that is unconvincing. Many ASEAN diplomats believe the real reason is to shun Myanmar. That military dictatorship is in line to claim the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN next year, and the US and the EU have rightly threatened to boycott next year’s summit meeting if that happens. But it’s hardly a reason to avoid this year’s meeting. Participating in the ASEAN meetings is a good way for Washington to develop trust, confidence and cooperation in the region, especially on anti-terrorism efforts. It also provides a useful setting for diplomatic discussions that would be awkward to arrange otherwise. At last year’s regional forum, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with North Korea’s foreign minister to discuss nuclear weapons. Rice should not pass up a chance to press Myanmar’s foreign minister on his country’s abysmal record on human rights and democratic values. — The New York Times