US president affirms commitment to Burma

Aug 7, 2008 (DVB), US president George W. Bush expressed his support for the Burmese democracy movement and spoke about the difficulties of finding international consensus on the issue at a Burmese media forum in Bangkok today.

The US president spoke of his frustration with the delays in relief supplies getting to Burma after the cyclone, but said he felt it was the right decision not to deliver aid by force.

"I'm disappointed that the military dictator chose not to allow the aid in quickly, but I don't think it would have been helpful for the Burmese people had there been a conflict over the delivery of aid," he said.

"What we don't want to do is compound a terrible situation. If we just send people in or military in without visas or permission from the government there's no telling what their reaction would have been, and so therefore we were trying to make the problem better not worse."

Bush said he hoped the international response to the cyclone would show the military regime that they had nothing to fear by letting in foreign aid in the event of another natural disaster.

When asked about the lack of international consensus on how to deal with Burma, Bush said he intended to build on common interests such as peace and stability to find agreement.

Bush said he hoped that the junta's response to Cyclone Nargis would help to demonstrate to the Chinese leadership the need for change.

"I hope that I can use my good relations with the Chinese leadership to convince them that the way forward is for there to be more civic participation, more citizen participation in the future of the country," he said.

"The perfect way to do that is to explain to them how backward the government was when it came to the response to the natural disaster. Hopefully that will open their eyes," he went on.

But no question there's a lot of diplomacy that needs to be done to convince others that people like Aung San Suu Kyi deserve to be free, and political prisoners ought to be free."

Bush acknowledged that the differing priorities of other countries were an obstacle to bringing about change in Burma.

"My goal is democracy, their goal is stability, and that's not necessarily the same," the president said.

"I'm for stability too, but I'd like to see the system move towards a free society. I want to see these prisoners released, I want to see people treated better," he said.

"This is a priority and others have different priorities and so therefore it's hard to find common ground, but we'll continue to try to do so."

The president praised the courage of activists working for democracy in Burma who he met over lunch today and said he had welcomed the opportunity to hear their views.

He dismissed the junta's new constitution as a "sham" and said he did not hold out much hope for free and fair elections in 2010.

"My stand is that they ought to be open and fair and I doubt they will be," he said.

"This is a society that is not interested in democracy; they have proved they are not interested in democracy," he went on.

"If they were interested in democracy they'd let the prisoners out of prison for starters, the political prisoners would be given a chance to leave and live a free life; that's the first test, not an election under a sham constitution."

President Bush said he did not believe that US support for Burma would waver under a new administration.

"It's not just the president that thinks about the citizens of Burma, there are a lot of people in our Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, that feel the same way," he said.

"I think the Burmese people are going to have a consistent friend in the United States."

Reporting by DVB

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