US officials to meet with Suu Kyi

Nov 4, 2009 (DVB), Senior United States officials are said to be "in a listening mode" as they head to Rangoon today to meet with detained Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The US delegation, led by the head of Washington's East Asia and Pacific Bureau, Kurt Campbell, met yesterday with government ministers in the new capital of Naypyidaw.

Campbell however failed to meet with the reclusive junta supremo Than Shwe, who seldom has contact with foreign envoys. Critics of the junta have said that this bears testament to the generals' willingness to reform.

"Avoiding Campbell means the senior general is not ready to compromise. I think he will fall short of the expectations of the new US administration," retired Burmese diplomat Thakin Chan Htun told Reuters.

"We can’t expect any tangible immediate results … Than Shwe is the one who makes all the decisions on all important policy issues."

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said yesterday that the trip, the most senior-level of its kind in 14 years, was "basically … a fact-finding mission".

The US is looking to increase dialogue with the Burmese regime following years of a failed isolationist policy, although Washington has said it will maintain sanctions until democratic reform is carried out.

"They’re basically in kind of an information gathering mode," Kelly said. "They laid out the way we see this relationship going forward, how we should structure this dialogue."

The visit is also likely to test whether the US has a genuine dialogue partner in Burma, according to Australian-based Burma expert, Sean Turnell.

"The overtures toward warming ties with the US have come from officials lower down and the US is trying to get a feel for how committed the generals are."

Campbell is due to meet with Suu Kyi this afternoon at a hotel in Rangoon. To date, the rare meetings she has held with foreign envoys have taken place either at the lakeside home where she is being kept under house arrest, or government 'guesthouses'.

He will then meet with senior members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party at their headquarters in Rangoon.

The NLD has welcomed the shift in US policy to Burma, while Suu Kyi last month sent a letter to Than Shwe urging for dialogue between the two over the lifting of sanctions.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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