US senator fires warning shot at Obama

A prominent US senator has warned that Burma risks becoming “a province of China” if the US fails to strengthen ties with the country’s isolated military regime.

Senator Jim Webb, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia Subcommittee, said internal divisions had hampered the Obama administration’s policy of increasing engagement with the junta.

“There was a big division in the State Department over whether to do that or not,” Reuters quoted Webb as saying. “I think Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton was inclined to a certain point to want to try. But there was an awful lot of pressure on the other side.”

Webb has proved an outspoken proponent of engaging with the Burmese regime. In August, he visited Burma, becoming the most senior US official in several years to meet with junta leaders. He also held a private meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon.

Webb’s latest comments come as the Obama administration reportedly considers increasing sanctions on the regime. A Congressional Research Service report published earlier this month said this was in part because of the manner in which the Burmese government was conducting this year’s elections, taking place on 7 November.

“Under current federal law, President Obama has the authority to impose certain types of financial sanctions without seeking approval from Congress. However, he must inform Congress if and when he imposes new sanctions,” the report noted.

In September, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell “confirmed that the Obama administration would continue its current policy of diplomatic engagement with the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council], but reiterated that sanctions could be added or removed, depending on the actions of the ruling military junta,” the report said.

“The tighter financial sanctions will most likely be targeted at the leadership of the SPDC and the Burmese military, to avoid harm to the people of Burma. No time-frame was given for when the Obama administration would impose the new sanctions,” it added.

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