Clinton urges Burma (Myanmar) to deepen reforms, announces modest US moves

The US will no longer block financing that Burma (Myanmar) seeks from institutions like the World Bank. But a restoration of diplomatic relations is not imminent, say State Department officials.

Saul Loeb/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Burma officials, including President Thein Sein, in Naypyidaw, Burma (Myanmar's) administrative capital, on Thursday.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used her historic trip to the isolated country of Burma (Myanmar) to announce Thursday some relaxation of economic restrictions – moves aimed at giving the military rulers a taste of the larger benefits they can expect from expanding the country’s fledgling reforms.

The US will no longer block financing that Burma seeks from international institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Those measures announced by Secretary Clinton are modest and do not yet include any easing of US sanctions on the country.

Also, a restoration of diplomatic relations is not imminent, according to State Department officials. But Clinton did discuss with the country’s civilian president, Thein Sein, a path that can lead to restoration of full diplomatic relations with the US and Burma’s return to the community of nations, the officials said. The path includes continued political and economic reforms, releasing of political prisoners, and improved respect for human rights.

The US has not had an ambassador in Burma for two decades and is represented there by a chargé d’affaires.

“Today, the United States is prepared to respond to reforms with measured steps to lessen its isolation and improve the lives of its citizens,” Clinton said after meeting with Mr. Thein Sein in the new capital of Naypyidaw.

Clinton also hailed last year’s release from house arrest of the pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and her freedom to participate in parliamentary elections next year. But she added that the restoration of political freedoms to one high-profile democrat “will be insufficient unless all political parties can ... compete in free, fair, and credible elections.”

Later Thursday in the traditional economic and cultural capital of Rangoon (Yangon), Clinton met with Ms. Suu Kyi, and the two global political personalities expressed mutual admiration before sitting down to a private dinner.

The Nobel laureate has said she supports the US opening to Burma and Clinton’s visit as a means of encouraging the country’s military leaders to pursue and deepen their reforms. She has also said that while she trusts the new civilian government led by Thein Sein, she is aware that not all the country’s rulers agree with even the initial political and economic reforms.

In her meeting with Thein Sein, Clinton gave a detailed presentation of the steps the US will watch for as it considers reciprocal measures toward improving relations, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters.

Clinton laid out five “areas of concern” where change will be necessary: in the nuclear field and in the country’s military relations with North Korea; in the area of political reform; in improvements for ethnic minorities and a robust process of reconciliation; in freeing all political prisoners; and in developing a system of and respect for the rule of law.

US officials said the meeting resulted in no timetable for progress, but underscored Clinton’s point that US measures including the easing of sanctions will depend on steps in Burma.

Clinton said conditions are “not at the point yet that we can consider lifting sanctions,” but she insisted that any steps the government takes will be “matched” by the US.

She did not mention that many of the punitive measures the US has taken against Burma would require congressional action to be lifted. Some congressional leaders have been critical of the administration’s engagement with the repressive country, saying whatever small reforms have been instituted so far could be easily reversed.

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