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.
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The Obama administration portrays the breakthrough with Myanmar as a sign of its commitment to revitalizing and expanding US ties to Asia. That emphasis is most often interpreted as a desire to fortify America’s influence in a region dealing with a rising China.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Myanmar case also underscores how the US sees its role in enhancing the East Asia region’s security. The State Department is sending a team of security officials to Myanmar to discuss the government’s commitment to ending arms purchases from North Korea, as well as prospects for enhanced relations between the country and the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency.
The US wants Myanmar to cut its military ties to North Korea, and to sign an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency that would commit the country to transparency on any nuclear activities.
Myanmar has in the past purchased small arms but also missiles from North Korea, the senior State Department official said at the briefing, the latter in particular putting the country in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
The official noted that Myanmar remains “among the most sanctioned countries in the world,” but that in the “action for action” spirit the US is committed to removing its sanctions and promoting the removal of international sanctions in return for Myanmar’s concrete steps on political reform and regional security.
Lifting sanctions won’t occur overnight, since in most cases congressional approval is necessary. But Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, the minority leader, offered his support for the administration’s move Friday – on the eve of a trip he is making to Myanmar.
“The Thein Sein government will need to do more to explain the military relationship with North Korea and hold free and fair elections,” Senator McConnell said in a statement,” adding that “restoration of more formal diplomatic ties” at this time appears to be “entirely appropriate.”
Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia, chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee and a leading advocate of US outreach to Burma, hailed the day’s developments as “historic steps,” saying “It is in our national interest and in the interest of regional stability to bring Burma back into the international community in a positive way.”
In a statement, he also called on the US to build on its efforts so far, saying “we should take advantage of all of the tools at our disposal to facilitate Burmese economic development, political reconciliation, and ultimately greater progress toward democratic governance.”
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