US senator to visit Burma this month

Aug 7, 2009 (DVB), United States Senator Jim Webb is due to visit Burma this month to discuss furthering US interests in the country, the first time a member of Congress has visited in more than a decade.

Webb will leave Sunday for a two-week tour of Southeast Asia, that will see him visit Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as Burma.

The Virginia senator chairs a Senate subcommittee of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, and will be the first US Congressman to visit Burma in ten years.

He is also one of the few outspoken congressmen who support the lifting of US sanctions on Burma and greater engagement with the regime, and has said in the past that the US should deal with Burma in the same way it has done with China and Vietnam.

A press release on his website said he would look to "explore opportunities to advance US interests in Burma" although it remains unclear what these interests are.

Burma analyst Larry Jagan said that it was possible the US was "using this as another way to send an overture" to the regime, but warned against heightened expectations.

"It is an opportunity obviously, it's a good thing, and it's a good thing they've been allowed in," he said.

He added however that Bill Clinton's recent trip to North Korea to secure the release of the two imprisoned US journalists "is going to make people jump to the wrong conclusions that may not be there".

There is a question mark hanging over Clinton's trip over whether the journalists were released in exchange for a retreat in the White House's tough policy on North Korea.

Webb's trip also comes barely three weeks after the US renewed sanctions on the regime, raising the question of how apparent engagement by the US will marry with its embargo on Burma.

"I don't think it's mutually exclusive," said Jagan. "The Americans have been saying things since Obama came to power that they would review policy; the review has not finished, so it doesn't preclude there being changes.

"There's a bigger game going on here, we hope, but the thing is Obama and Clinton are probably much more concerned with other things going on in the world, unfortunately."

A senior aide to Webb told Reuters that the senator was unlikely to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, who on Monday is expected to hear the verdict on a trial in which she is accused of breaching conditions of her house arrest.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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