Myanmar breakthrough: Does it validate Obama policy of engaging adversaries?
The US announced it was restoring diplomatic ties with Myanmar, and some US officials credited Obama's policy of engagement with helping to bring one of the world's pariah states in from the cold.
The United States restored full diplomatic relations with Myanmar Friday, saying it was making good on a commitment to “meet action with action” as the long-isolated Southeast Asian country has moved rapidly on political and economic reforms.Skip to next paragraph
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Just hours after Myanmar’s new civilian government announced the release of hundreds of political prisoners, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US would exchange ambassadors with Myanmar, also known as Burma, for the first time in two decades.
The US announcement also followed Myanmar’s declaration of a cease-fire with ethnic Karen rebels, a sign of the new government’s recognition of Myanmar’s ethnic diversity. According to US diplomats, ethnic violence and repression may be the most difficult challenge the country faces.
The focus Friday was on Myanmar and the role US diplomacy has played in bringing one of the world’s pariah states in from the cold. But some administration officials were keen to depict the breakthrough as a success for President Obama’s policy of engaging America’s adversaries.
Mr. Obama came into office “committed to trying to engage in many parts of the world where we had frozen relations,” says a senior State Department official. “In this case … we’re seeing progress. In other cases,” the official adds, the US effort was “not reciprocated.”
Secretary Clinton signaled a warming of relations with Myanmar, for decades ruled by a harsh military junta, with a groundbreaking visit at the end of last year. “As I said in December,” Clinton said at the State Department Friday, “the United States will meet action with action.” She added that a “lengthy process” lies ahead that will “depend on continuing progress and reform.”
At a briefing following Clinton’s announcement, a senior State Department official said the US will be watching a number of key indicators for sustained progress toward reform, including elections set for April 1 and government negotiations with ethnic rebels and other groups.
But the official said all indications were that the announced release of 651 political prisoners was genuine and, while it did not include all of the country’s political prisoners, did include a substantial number of high-profile dissidents, student leaders from past pro-democracy movements, and even some former military chiefs.
The government’s action constitutes “one of the largest releases of political prisoners in Asia’s history,” the official said.
In her announcement, Clinton said she would speak by telephone this weekend with the country’s president, Thein Sein, and with Nobel laureate and prominent pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, “to underscore our commitment to walk together with them on the path to reform.” Aung San Suu Kyi has already said her political party will participate in the April 1 elections.