US senator against lifting Burma sanctions

Sept 30, 2009 (DVB), The United States should wait for major concessions from Burma's ruling junta before considering whether to lift sanctions on the country, a top US senator said yesterday.

The "release of all political prisoners, and the conduct of free and fair elections in 2010" are the key factors that the Washington must demand, said US senate republican leader Mitch McConnell.

"[These] remain two significant tests of whether or not Burma’s relationship with the United States has improved to the degree that we should even consider moving away from a policy of sanctions," he said.

"The United States must also insist that Burma comply with its international obligations and end any prohibited military or proliferation related cooperation with North Korea."

The remarks coincided with a meeting between top US diplomats, headed by secretary of state for Asia, Kurt Campbell, and senior members of the Burmese government in New York yesterday.

Campbell, who said last week that the US was taking a "measured approach" to the 2010 elections, met with Burmese minister for science and technology, U Thaung.

The Burmese delegation arrived in New York last week for the United Nations General Assembly, the first such visit to the US in 14 years.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement last week that the US will maintain sanctions but look also to engage directly with the ruling junta, following years of a failed isolationist policy on Burma, has drawn controversy.

The pro-sanctions lobby has said that the move is akin to rewarding the junta despite gaining no concessions, while those who favour greater engagement point to the apparent lack of results from past US policy.

In recent months the US has expressed concern about Burma's nuclear ambitions, following an apparent warming of relations between the generals and North Korea.

Burma's prime minister, Thein Sein, told the General Assembly on Monday that "it is our hope that all nations of the world will continue to work together to eliminate nuclear weapons" and that Burma "supports the establishment of nuclear weapons free zones".

Reporting by Francis Wade

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