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Clinton kicks off eight-nation tour

WASHINGTON, July 6 — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left here on Thursday for an eight-nation tour, including what the State Department called a "groundbreaking" visit to Laos, the first by a U.S. state secretary in 57 years.

While in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on July 11, the top U. S. diplomat will meet with Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong and other senior government officials to discuss a variety of bilateral and regional issues, including the Lower Mekong Initiative and ASEAN integration efforts, the State Department said in a statement.

The initiative was launched in July 2009 by Clinton and the foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, with a view to promoting the development of the Lower Mekong countries in education, environment, health and infrastructure.

Washington noted the addition of Myanmar to the program late last month, when the United States and Laos held their fourth Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue in the U.S. capital.

Diplomatic relations were never severed between the United States and Laos, but U.S. involvement in the Laotian civil war and other incidents had strained bilateral ties over the years. Accounting for Americans missing in Laos from the Vietnam War has been a special focus of the relationship.

The current tour will also take Clinton to France, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt and Israel.

During her stay in Paris on Friday, the secretary will attend the third meeting of the Friends of Syria, the State Department said.

"As part of her ongoing consultations with senior Palestinian and Israeli leaders, the secretary will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss both parties' efforts to pursue a dialogue and build on President Abbas' exchange of letters with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," it added.

In Tokyo, Clinton will join others for a conference on Afghan economy on Sunday, an event dedicated to supporting Afghanistan's development needs for the "transformation decade" beginning in 2015. Most foreign combat troops are expected to leave the war- torn country by 2014.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has expressed hope that the meeting would pledge 4 billion U.S. dollars a year in aid to his country.

Clinton's visit to Egypt came after Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood was sworn in as the new president late last month, and she will voice support for the country's democratic transition and economic development, the State Department said.

While in Israel on July 16-17, Clinton will discuss with the Israeli leadership peace efforts as well as "a range of regional and bilateral issues of mutual concern," said the department. (PNA/Xinhua) CTB//rsm

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