BANGKOK – Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Daniel R. Russel, the most senior United States diplomat to visit Thailand since the military seized power delivered harsh words to the junta calling on lifting martial law in Thailand.
Mr. Daniel R. Russel, said in an interview that he had been sent by the Obama administration to tell the military leaders that the United States would not “paper over problems” and that he had told the junta it was losing credibility.
Mr. Russel’s message to the junta on Monday, which he described as “Blunt” and “Tough,” was Washington’s most detailed criticism of the overthrowing of the country’s elected government and the curtailment of civil rights and speech that followed.
“Thailand is losing credibility in the eyes of its international friends and partners by not moving more quickly to end martial law, to restore civil rights and to ensure that this effort to engineer a new constitution and hold elections is not purely a top-down affair,” Mr. Russel said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered Foreign Minister Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn to convince the US assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs that Thailand is on course to democracy.
Foreign Minister Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn issued a statement late Monday hailing “a long relationship” of more than 180 years with the United States and said it had advised Mr. Russel of the government’s “reform procedures.”
Gen Tanasak has also been asked to explain progress made by the government to improve its human trafficking record.
Mr. Russel also appeared to warn the Thai government that it would probably retain its “Tier 3” status, the lowest ranking in the State Department’s annual assessment of how countries handle the issue of human trafficking.
“Unless there is real, measurable results to point to, I don’t know how you can say that the situation has gotten better yet,” he said.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a professor at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of political science, said the visit is a good sign the Thai-US relationship is still healthy after 182 years.
The US has strict practices when dealing with countries where coups depose legitimately elected governments, but Mr Russel’s trip will reaffirm close ties, said Mr Panitan.
“It was difficult to deal with the US after the coup, but the situation gradually changed after things became more stable here. The US is one of several countries which have improved relations with us since the coup,” Mr Panitan said.
Close engagement between Thailand and China could be among the factors that made the US keen to resume its close relationship, he added.