US-Burma Policy Outlined at UN

By LALIT K JHA Monday, September 28, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday announced it will engage the Burmese military junta in a dialogue, but reaffirmed its fundamental goals in Burma while acknowledging that it expects the process to be long and drawn out.

“We intend to begin a direct dialogue with Burmese authorities to lay out a path towards better relations,” Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Public Affairs Kurt Campbell told reporters at the United Nations in New York.

“The dialogue will include specific discussion of democracy and human rights inside Burma, cooperation on international security issues such as nonproliferation and compliance with 1874 and 1718, and areas that could be of mutual benefit such as counternarcotics and recovery of World War II era remains,” he said.

Campbell, who will testify before a Congressional committee this week, said the US supports a unified, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of its citizens. 

“To that end, we will continue to push for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, an end to conflicts with ethnic minorities and gross human rights violations, and initiation of a credible internal political dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority leaders on elements of reconciliation and reform,” he said.

At the same time, the Obama Administration will press Burma to comply with its international obligations, including on nonproliferation, ending any prohibited military or proliferation-related cooperation with North Korea and full compliance with United Nation resolutions 1874 and 1718.

“If Burma makes meaningful progress towards these goals, it will be possible to improve the relationship with the United States in a step-by-step process.  We recognize that this will likely be a long and difficult process, and we are prepared to sustain our efforts on this front,” Campbell said.

He said the US will maintain existing sanctions until it sees concrete progress towards reform. 

“Lifting sanctions now would send the wrong signal,” he said. “We will tell the Burmese that we will discuss easing sanctions only if they take actions on our core concerns. We will reserve the option to apply additional targeted sanctions, if warranted, by events inside Burma.”

On the 2010 elections, Campbell said the US will take a measured approach until it can assess the electoral conditions and know whether opposition and ethnic groups will be able to participate. 

“We are skeptical that the elections will be either free or fair, but we will stress to the Burmese the conditions that we consider necessary for a credible electoral process,” he said.

Responding to questions from the media, Campbell said during the seven months review of its Burma policy, the Obama Administration recognized that ultimately the US needs to change its methods but not its goals. 

“I think at this early stage, we think it’s important to suggest that we are prepared to sit down, but also recognize that nothing has changed yet on the ground or in terms of some of the activities that Burma has been involved with. I think this initial step is the right approach, and greater clarity can be gained, hopefully, through a process of dialogue over the course of the coming weeks,” he said.

Meanwhile, addressing the UN General Assembly Session, Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein alleged that powerful nations of the world are resorting to economic sanctions on Burma to pressure developing countries.

“Sanctions are being employed as a political tool against Myanmar [Burma] and we consider them unjust,” he said, urging the General Assembly members to help it get them lifted. “Such acts must be stopped,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Thein Sein met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A UN statement said the secretary-general reiterated his expectation that Burma will respond in a timely manner to the proposals he left with the senior leadership during his recent visit. In particular, Ban made clear that the onus was on the government to create the necessary conditions for credible and inclusive elections, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, as well as dialogue with all stakeholders.

Talking to reporters at UN headquarters, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said that if there was going to be a serious political process in the country, political leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi should be able to participate.  on the other hand, there seemed to be clear agreement among the international community that “sanctions as sanctions” would not work.  They had to be balanced by a positive outreach, he said.  

US Sen. Jim Webb also met the Burmese Prime Minister at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

“I look forward to continuing the dialogue with Prime Minister Thein Sein that was begun last month,” Webb said in a statement.

At UN, Burma Pledges “Democracy”


UNITED NATIONS — The highest-ranking official from Burma’s military government to appear before the UN General Assembly in 14 years lashed out Monday against Western sanctions on his country, but promised to take “systematic steps to hold free and fair elections” next year.

Defiance of the West underpinned the speech by Burma’s prime minister, Gen Thein Sein, even as he outlined the military junta’s plans for its “transition to democracy” long sought by the United States, Britain, France and their Western allies.

“Sanctions are being employed as a political tool against Myanmar [Burma] and we consider them unjust,” Thein Sein said during the General Assembly’s annual high-level gathering that began last week at UN headquarters in New York. “Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and a system suitable for Myanmar can only be born out of Myanmar society.”

Thein Sein also said new electoral laws will be fashioned and a new election commission will be formed “so that political parties can be formed and contest the elections.”

A bicameral legislature is planned, he said, and a government will be formed under a new Constitution. The adoption of the new and disputed Constitution—approved in a nationwide referendum pushed through in May 2008 despite the wreckage and chaos of Cyclone Nargis weeks earlier—is intended to return Burma to civilian rule after four and a half decades.

His speech came two days after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a ministerial meeting of Southeast Asian nations to take a tougher line on Burma. Ban’s own diplomatic efforts, including two high-profile trips there since last year, have yielded few tangible short-term results.

At a meeting Monday with Thein Sein, Ban pressed again for the junta to respond soon to his proposals for laying the groundwork for fair elections, including the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other prisoners.

Several UN efforts to promote talks between the pro-democracy movement and the junta led by Snr-Gen Than Shwe failed. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has been in detention for about 14 of the past 20 years.

The Security Council and Ban have repeatedly urged the junta to free 64-year-old Suu Kyi and 2,200 other political prisoners, and to hold fair elections in 2010. Than Shwe has largely ignored those statements and direct entreaties by Ban and a top envoy.

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