US welcomes delay in controversial Mekong dam

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The United States on Tuesday welcomed a delay in construction of a controversial dam on the Mekong River, voicing hope that Southeast Asian nations would work to ensure it is environmentally sound.

Laos wants to go ahead with the US$3.8 billion Xayaburi dam which would generate hydropower for export, but a meeting last week with officials from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam put off a decision.

The neighboring countries asked Laos for further study of the dam amid warnings by environmentalists that it would seriously impact fish, trigger algae growth and disrupt the lives of millions who rely on the river.

"The United States welcomes the recognition by riparian states of the need to consider fully the potential economic, environmental and social impacts of hydropower development," the US State Department said in a statement.

"We encourage the countries to continue to work together to realize their shared vision of an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River basin," it said.

Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, has pressed for an active US role against construction of the dam which he argued would have "devastating" consequences for the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 launched a Lower Mekong initiative as part of a drive to re-engage Southeast Asia, which the US administration charged was overlooked during President George W. Bush's tenure.

President Barack Obama's administration has worked with the four countries to chart out the effects of climate change and last year offered nearly $150 million to public health efforts including AIDS treatment.

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