|U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, right, listens to questions during Manila press conference, Thursday|
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick met with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo Thursday and discussed their countries' economic and security cooperation.
Mr. Zoellick, who took over as Washington's number-two diplomat in February, said he had come to familiarize himself with Southeast Asian views on issues of global importance.
"I wanted to come to a number of ASEAN countries to get a sense of their priorities," he explained, "to listen to their ideas and to focus across the spectrum on some security issues, particularly counterterrorism, but also on the economic side and political matters."
Mr. Zoellick said the global anti-terrorism campaign was moving in the right direction, but that terrorism remains a big challenge.
While praising Manila's contribution to the war on terrorism, he told reporters the situation in the southern region of Mindanao remains "dangerous" because of apparent links between Philippine Muslim separatists and international terrorists.
Some Philippine rebels have allegedly trained foreign militants, primarily members the Muslim radical group Jemaah Islamiyah, which is responsible for a number of bombings in Southeast Asia and which Washington lists as a terrorist organization.
Washington has been providing military aid to the Philippines, and U.S. soldiers have been conducting training exercises with the local armed forces. The Bush administration is also promoting several economic and social projects in the south of the country.
On Wednesday, Mr. Zoellick met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok. He will visit Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and also Vietnam, where he will mark the 10th anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two former enemies.