Wed 29 Apr 2009
Filed under: International,News
The United States plans to keep sanctions in place on Myanmar even as it charts a new course with the military regime, a senior White House official said in a letter seen on Tuesday.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has launched a review of policy on Myanmar, also known as Burma, and has pledged to coordinate more closely with Asian nations.
But a senior official reassured that sanctions would stay in place, in a reply to congressman who supports strong pressure on the junta to free democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
“The sanctions that the United States and other countries maintain against the regime are an important part of our efforts to support change in Burma,” Richard Verma, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the State Department, told Representative Peter King in the letter seen by AFP.
State Department official Stephen Blake last month paid the first visit by a senior US envoy to Myanmar in more than seven years, quietly holding talks both with the junta and the opposition.
Verma, who handles relations between the State Department and Congress, said reports that Blake floated the possibility of lifting sanctions on Myanmar were “incorrect.”
Obama has reached out to US adversaries such as Iran and Cuba, although he has insisted he will not lift sanctions if the nations do not take action on human rights and other concerns.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that she wants to find a “better way” to sway Myanmar’s military leaders.
King and 16 other members of Congress wrote a letter to Clinton in early April to voice concern about any lifting of sanctions.
“While we are currently reviewing our Burma policy, we can assure you that we remain committed to delivering a firm message on the need for real reform, including the initiation of a credible and inclusive dialogue with the democratic opposition and the release of political prisoners,” Verma said in the reply.
The junta has kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for nearly 20 years. The Nobel laureate led her party to victory in 1990 but the junta never allowed the election to stand.
European Union foreign ministers on Monday extended the bloc’s own sanctions against Myanmar for another year, calling for the release of all political prisoners and a peaceful transition to civilian rule.
But the EU foreign ministers also said they were ready to ease sanctions and hold talks if there was democratic progress.
Unlike the United States and European Union, nearly all Asian nations maintain full relations and trade with Myanmar.
China is the key commercial and military partner of the junta, which crushed 2007 protests led by Buddhist monks.
Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia, recently called for the United States to provide incentives to Myanmar to pave the way for an eventual lifting of sanctions.