The United States is taking the next step in its efforts to promote democratic reform in Burma, sending a high-level diplomatic delegation there in the coming weeks for exploratory talks with the nation’s military rulers. For a more complete picture of conditions on the ground, U.S. officials will also talk with representatives of ethnic nationalities and the democratic opposition, including the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi and others.
After almost 50 years of military rule, political and humanitarian conditions in Burma are deplorable. The U.S. has long hoped economic and diplomatic pressure would bring the leaders in Rangoon around. Since 1997, American companies and individuals have been banned from making new investments in Burma.
Assets in the U.S. of major Burmese figures and interests have been frozen, their travel has been limited with visa restrictions, and bans imposed on the importation of rubies and jadeite mined in Burma, a major Burmese industry. But neither sanctions nor engagement alone have succeeded in improving conditions there or moving Burma forward on a path to democratic reform.
The situation is all the more serious by the threat to stability that the turmoil in Burma poses to its neighbors and the international community at large. These and other concerns led the U.S. to reconsider its approach toward the government there. And for the first time in memory, the leadership in Burma has shown an interest in engaging with the U.S., evidenced by a meeting in September at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly by the Burmese delegation and senior American officials.
While the recent review of U.S. policies toward Burma called for additional steps to be taken for dialogue with its military rulers, it nevertheless confirmed America’s fundamental interest there. The U.S. will continue to support a unified, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Burma.