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Policy and History

The United States established full diplomatic relations with Laos in 1955, following its full independence from France in 1954. Within a few years, Laos entered into civil war, and the United States supported the country’s royal government.  For nearly a decade beginning in 1964, Laos was subjected to heavy U.S. bombing as part of the wider war in Indochina. Following the change of regimes in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, a communist government also came to power in Laos. The government aligned itself with Vietnam and the Soviet bloc, implementing one-party rule and a command economy. U.S.-Lao relations deteriorated after 1975, and U.S. representation was downgraded. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Laos sought to improve relations with other countries. Full U.S.-Lao diplomatic relations were restored in 1992. In July 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Laos, marking the first visit by a Secretary of State since 1955.

Accounting for American personnel missing in Laos and clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the war were the initial focuses of the post-war bilateral relationship. Since that time the relationship has broadened to include cooperation on a range of issues including counter-narcotics, health, child nutrition, environmental sustainability, trade liberalization, and English language training. This expansion in cooperation has accelerated since 2009, with the launch of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), which serves as a platform to address complex, transnational development and policy changes in the Lower Mekong sub-region. The United States and Laos share a commitment to ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future for the Mekong sub-region.