US to relax sanctions vs MyanmarAgence France-Presse
WASHINGTON — The United States said Wednesday it will ease restrictions on investment to Myanmar and quickly appoint an ambassador as it seeks to boost reformers who allowed landmark elections in the long-closed nation.
In its latest gestures under a three-year diplomatic drive on Myanmar, the United States said it would step up aid and allow select officials to visit but stopped short of easing the bulk of two decades worth of biting sanctions.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the “leadership and courage” of President Thein Sein after the opposition swept Sunday’s by-elections, giving Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi her first seat in parliament.
“The United States will stand with the reformers and the democrats both inside the government and in the larger civil society as they work together for that more hopeful future that is the right of every single person,” Clinton told reporters.
Clinton said the United States would start easing restrictions on US investment and financial services in areas seen supporting the economy and reforms in the country formerly known as Burma.
Officials said they were still deciding the exact measures and timeframe but that one priority would be to allow the use of credit cards in Myanmar, one of the few nations where MasterCard, Visa and American Express are never accepted.
Clinton said that the United States would complete formalities “in the coming days” to send an ambassador to Myanmar, completing a promised upgrade to full relations after a two-decade gap.
The US Agency for International Development will set up a mission inside the country and the United States will support a similar normalization of work by the UN Development Program, Clinton said.
Clinton — who paid a landmark visit to Myanmar in December — said that the State Department would also allow select officials and lawmakers to visit the United States and that US private organizations would be allowed to conduct a greater range of work inside Myanmar, including on health and education.
But Myanmar will remain under a number of tough sanctions set by the US Congress including a ban on its key exports such as jade.
“Sanctions and prohibitions will stay in place on individuals and institutions that remain on the wrong side of these historic reform efforts,” Clinton said.
Clinton said the United States was still pressing for greater progress on key concerns including a release of all political prisoners and the end to any conditions on those recently released from jails in a major amnesty.
She also called for reconciliation with minority groups and the “verifiable termination” of any military cooperation between Myanmar and North Korea, which plans to test a long-range missile this month.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top senator from the rival Republican Party whose approval is critical to confirm an ambassador, gave his “support in principle” to the measures announced by Clinton.
“The Burmese government has taken many positive steps of late but still has much to do, including ensuring that violence against the Kachin and other ethnic minorities ceases, as well as ending the Burmese military relationship with North Korea,” McConnell said.
Aung Din, a former political prisoner and executive director of the US Campaign for Burma advocacy group, was more critical. He sad Myanmar’s leaders won “enormous” rewards even though Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will hold a tiny number of seats in the military-dominated parliament.
“Today will be the best day for the Burmese regime, which is still killing innocent civilians in ethnic areas in Burma,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s administration opened talks with Myanmar after taking office in 2009, concluding that years of Western efforts to isolate the then military leadership had failed.
Three years later, Myanmar is arguably a top showcase for Obama’s foreign policy as he seeks reelection, with the Republicans sharply criticizing his earlier outreach to other US foes such as Iran and Syria.
Thein Sein, a nominal civilian, took office last year to widespread skepticism from the United States and opposition. But he has surprised even many of his critics through reforms including opening talks with Suu Kyi, who had spent most of the past two decades under house arrest.
Some US-based analysts attribute Myanmar’s shift to an unease over reliance on China, which has an outsized economic and political influence in its strategically placed neighbor.
The European Union has also been seeking to reward Myanmar and is leaning toward a “substantial” removal of sanctions, a senior EU diplomat told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday in Brussels.
Originally posted: 10:20 am | Thursday, April 5th, 2012