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25 September 2009
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US in talks with Myanmar junta

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the Obama administration has decided to engage in direct high-level talks with Myanmar's junta as part of international efforts to promote democracy in the military-run state, the Associated Press reported.

Clinton made the announcement at the United Nations after meeting with her counterparts from a number of countries trying to convince the authoritarian regime to reform, allow dissent and release thousands of political prisoners, including Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

She said that US sanctions against members of Myanmar's leadership would remain in place but that those measures would now be accompanied by outreach. For months, Clinton had lamented that the sanctions alone were having little impact.

"We believe that sanctions remain important as part of our policy, but by themselves they have not produced the results that had been hoped for on behalf of the people of Burma (Myanmar)," Clinton told reporters, using the country's traditional name.

"Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion," she said. "So, going forward we will be employing both of those tools, pursuing our same goals. To help achieve democratic reform, we will be engaging directly with Burmese authorities."

The move is the latest in a series of reversals in Bush administration foreign policy by Obama's national security team. The new administration is also reaching out to Iran and has scrapped major elements of Bush's plan to construct a missile shield in eastern Europe.

The decision to engage Myanmar stemmed from a review of US policy toward the country initiated after President Barack Obama took office. The Bush administration had shunned Myanmar in protest of multiple crackdowns on the opposition.

US officials said Congress would be briefed on specifics of the new policy on Thursday.

A senior State Department official familiar with the review said the administration planned to name an envoy to deal with an "interlocutor" who Myanmar is expected to name soon to handle the dialogue with Washington.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because US lawmakers have not yet been briefed on the plans, said discussions with Myanmar would now take place at a significantly higher level.

Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, currently holds almost 2,200 political prisoners, according to estimates by human rights groups. None of them, however, are as well known as pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi.

Her National League for Democracy party handily won the country's last elections in 1990 but the military never honored the results.

She has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, and a global groundswell of international pressure to release the 64-year-old opposition leader has kept the impoverished military-ruled country under sanctions in recent years. AP

Meanwhile, detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted as welcoming the US initiative to step up contacts with Myanmar's military government, a spokesman for her political party said Thursday.

Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy party, said Suu Kyi agreed with plans announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Obama administration to engage in direct high-level talks with the junta as part of efforts to promote democracy in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi "said she accepted the idea of engagement by the US administration. She said she has always espoused engagement, however, (she) suggested that engagement had to be done with both sides - the government as well as the democratic forces," Nyan Win said. 


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