US officials meet with Burma junta

Oct 1, 2009 (DVB), The US has reiterated its stance on continuing sanctions to Burma, despite high-level talks between both sides yesterday aimed at kick-starting direct engagement.

Senior Burmese government delegates met with State Department officials in New York yesterday for the first high-level talks between the countries in over a decade.

State Department deputy spokesperson Philip Crowley characterised it as an "introductory" meeting, and a "cautious beginning".

He said that US officials and the Burmese delegation, which included minister for science and technology, U Thaung, and UN representative Than Swe, discussed matters ranging from the release of political prisoners to Burma's relationship with North Korea.

The meeting came a day after the Obama administration formally announced that it will increase engagement with Burma after years of an isolationist policy that many regard as a failure.

In a statement prior to the talks, however, State Department official Kurt Campbell said that the "lifting or easing sanctions at the outset of a dialogue without meaningful progress on our concerns would be a mistake."

Washington has down played the importance of the meeting, labeling it as an initial first step towards potential greater engagement with the regime.

It is unclear, however, if this response was tempered by Burma's decision to send its minister of technology and science, perhaps signaling a lack of resolve by the junta.

When asked about the decision, Crowley said that he would be "careful" with any response he gives on the issue.

"This was the individual that they designated for this first meeting. I'm not suggesting that he will be the interlocutor for future meetings. It's up to the Burmese."

Reporting by Matt Cunningham

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