PHNOM PENH (Cambodia Herald) - Thank you to everyone for the wonderful feedback and questions I received after my “Ask the Ambassador” column last week. I am excited by how many Cambodians are interested in having a dialogue with me, and I hope to continue to hear from you at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
One of the questions I have gotten frequently is, “What is the U.S. going to do about Cambodia’s debt?” Many people have written to tell me about how much it would help Cambodia to have the debt forgiven, or how the U.S. can’t possibly hold the current government responsible because the debt was incurred under a past government.
This is, of course, a very difficult question. The United States and Cambodia have differing views on this issue, but I do believe that through all our discussions we are getting closer to a solution. This is exactly the type of issue I am glad we can discuss openly and honestly.
Nearly every country in the world recognizes its responsibility under international law to repay debts incurred by previous governments. If countries expected debt to be cancelled because there was a change in government, then the whole system of international loans would breakdown – if lenders couldn’t be assured they would be repaid, they would stop loaning money. All of this means that Cambodia is responsible for its U.S. debt. Because it has not been paying its debt, however, Cambodia cannot access normal credit markets and borrow money like most other nations can to build infrastructure like new roads, hospitals, and electrical power grids.
Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong and Secretary Clinton discuss Cambodia’s debt each time they meet, and the United States has sent advisors and experts to work with Cambodia to develop a plan for moving forward. We have made several proposals that we think could solve this issue in a fair manner for both our countries, but everything hinges on Cambodia taking responsibility for what it owes.
The second question I will answer today is “Why is the bald eagle a symbol for the United States?” Back in 1782, Congress choose the bald eagle as the emblem of the United States because of its majestic beauty, great strength, and long life, and because it is native to our country. The United States was founded on the values of freedom and liberty, and the American eagle is a great symbol of those traits. Today, you can find the eagle on most official seals of the U.S. government, such as the seal of the President. Something I find interesting is that the eagle is usually shown holding 13 arrows in its left talons, which symbolizes the 13 colonies (states) that originally fought for the independence of the United States, but in its right talons, the eagle holds an olive branch to symbolize peace. The eagle’s head is always turned toward the olive branch, showing the United States’ preference for peace.
Also, many people have asked what the various parts of the U.S. flag represent. The American flag has gone through quite an evolution over the years. It has been officially modified 26 times since 1777! The 13 red and white horizontal stripes represent the original 13 colonies that founded the United States. The 50 white stars represent each of the current 50 states. Each time we admitted a new state to the union, we had to add another star! There are also meanings behind the colors on the flag. White signifies purity and innocence. Red represents hardiness and valor. Finally, blue, the color of the Chief, signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
Thank you all so much for your questions. Please keep sending them to my email address, AskAMBToddPP@state.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon!
William E. Todd is United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia