US to engage Burma (Myanmar): Clinton

After years of just imposing sanctions, the US will now also engage Burma, Clinton said. The closed regime may also be reaching out: It attended its first UN meeting this week in 14 years.

A surprise guest showed up at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York this week: the prime minister of Burma (Myanmar).

Burma – one of the world’s most restrictive military dictatorships – hasn’t attended in 14 years.Myanmar’s appearance coincides with a major policy shift in Washington.

After a careful review, the Obama administration has decided to pursue diplomatic relations with the country’s junta, which has been in power since 1962.

The change comes as the White House appears to recognize that sanctions against Myanmar – currently leveled by the United States and the European Union – have done little to effect democratic changes, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters this week, according to Agance France-Presse:

Realizing that sanctions alone have failed to change the military junta's behavior, President Barack Obama's fledgling administration now intends to move "in the direction of both engagement and continued sanctions," Clinton told reporters.

Clinton didn’t say what those forms of diplomacy would be, the Wall Street Journal points out.

She indicated that there would be no softening of U.S. demands toward Myanmar and repeated calls for the military rulers to release opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi…“Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion, going forward we will be employing both of those tools," [Clinton said].

Just as the Obama administration is reaching out to Myanmar, so too is Myanmar trying to reach out to the world, as National Public Radio’s Michael Sullivan points out in this transcript:

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Myanmar's military rulers don't seem to have much use for public diplomacy, which is what makes Prime Minister Thein Sein's trip so unusual. He's the first senior member of Myanmar's military to attend the U.N.'s annual gathering in 14 years. And on the eve of his visit, Myanmar released some 7,000 prisoners from its jails in an attempt to mute international criticism of its abysmal human rights record.

But these are just part of a charm offensive meant to gloss over enduring human rights abuses, Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile and editor of The Irrawaddy Magazine in Chiang Mai, Thailand, told Sullivan.

Mr. ZAW: Not only trying to win the hearts and minds of the international community, but also give a signal to the U.S. in particular, because U.S. policy (unintelligible) and the Burmese military leaders know how to deal with the international community and Western governments. I think, whether we like it or not, there are some people who may be happy with this kind of token gesture.

The military rulers may be freeing prisoners, but they’re also cracking down on monks, who in 2007 led sweeping nationwide protests, as the Asia Times online reports:

The junta has in recent days tightened its watch over the Buddhist clergy. Exiled Burmese media reported that on August 22, the Sangha League issued a statement saying it was working with 14 other political groups to plan a third boycott against the military, similar to the one launched during the 2007 uprising.
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