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U.S. says it is still confirming who will lead U.S. APEC delegation next week

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun speaks at a news briefing with South Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young after their meeting at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, July 08, 2020. Chung Sung-Jun/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun will represent the United States at next week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meeting, but Washington is still confirming who will head the delegation for the Nov. 20 APEC leaders’ meeting, the senior U.S. official for the forum said on Thursday.

State Department official Sandra Oudkirk told a Washington think tank the United States was also finalizing which official from the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office would attend the virtual meetings to be hosted by Malaysia.

The United States has also yet to say who will lead the U.S. delegation to this weekend’s virtual East Asia Summit (EAS) hosted by Vietnam, even though the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump has declared the Asia Pacific and competition with China a foreign policy priority.

Last year’s APEC summit, which Trump had been due to attend, did not take place because Chile backed out of hosting it amid violent street protests. It is due to be held virtually this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Trump attended the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Manila in 2017, he has never attended a full EAS meeting and Washington disappointed Asian partners worried by China’s expanding influence with relatively low-level EAS participation last year.

Trump is currently preoccupied with challenging the results of last week’s presidential election and has refused to concede defeat to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who is due to take office in January.

Oudkirk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, said she hoped the APEC meetings could endorse a framework for work over the next 20 years.

“We are very, very close to an agreement, but not quite there yet,” she said.

Oudkirk said APEC’s work in the lead-up to the summits had focused on ways to ensure economic recovery after the pandemic and that the United States had been working to encourage other countries to avoid restrictions on cross-border data flows and to commit to open markets in services.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney

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