The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, and the United States have signed an anti-terrorism accord, capping a week of diplomatic efforts to strengthen regional security ties to fight terrorism.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and ASEAN foreign ministers signed the much-anticipated anti-terrorism pact. The agreement focuses on sharing intelligence and increasing police cooperation to root out terrorist organizations in the region.
The treaty could also boost U.S. technical and logistical aid to Southeast Asia and free the United States to more easily track down terrorists in the area.
ASEAN members Indonesia and Vietnam had initially objected to the agreement, fearing it could open the door for U.S. troops to be sent to the region. But the final draft made clear that U.S. troops could not be deployed without the approval of individual countries.
The signing came at the close of a two-day Asia Pacific security forum in Brunei. A joint statement says that ASEAN and the United States view acts of terrorism, in all forms and manifestations, as a profound threat to international peace and security.
Brunei's leader, Sultan Muda Hassanal Bolkiah, noted that the threat of terrorism is taking a devastating toll on Southeast Asia, which has gained an unwanted reputation as a breeding ground for Muslim extremists.
"At its deepest level, it directly threatens all international order. Therefore, [it is] a direct attack on the very structure of our association," he said. "That is why we are fully committed to removing its sponsors, its criminal perpetrators, and every aspect of its influence from our region."
The accord complements another anti-terror pledge made at the forum Wednesday by ASEAN, the United States, and 12 other Pacific Rim security partners. In that agreement, the countries promised to pool their efforts to stop the flow of money that funds terrorist activities.
In another regional anti-terrorism alliance, Malaysia and Australia are expected to sign Friday a pact that promotes cooperation between the countries' immigration, defense, and customs officials.
ASEAN is comprised of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines have been at the forefront of the terrorism fight, arresting dozens of suspected militants with alleged ties to al-Qaida in recent months.