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US sets terms of Burma engagement

Sept 29, 2009 (DVB), The reasons for greater engagement with Burma by the United States range from promotion of democracy to recovering soldier remains from World War II, a US official said yesterday.

Washington announced last week that it will seek to increase dialogue with the reclusive regime, following years of an isolationist policy based on sanctions.

Assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, told a State Department press briefing yesterday that the US would look to engage the regime on myriad issues.

As well as dialogue on democracy and human rights, Washington would seek "cooperation on international security issues such as nonproliferation and compliance with [UN Resolutions] 1874 and 1718" on North Korea.

He also pointed to "areas that could be of mutual benefit such as counternarcotics and recovery of World War II era remains".

Attempts to recover the bodies of a number of US soldiers whose planes were downed over northern Burma during World War II have often been used as bargaining chips by the pro-engagement lobby.

Campbell stressed that the shift in US policy to Burma, announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Wednesday, was in part a reaction to encouraging signs from the junta itself.

"For the first time in memory, the Burmese leadership has shown an interest in engaging with the United States, and we intend to explore that interest," he said.

"We know the process may be long and difficult. We should be prepared to sustain our efforts beyond the planned 2010 elections."

The US will pursue with sanctions, he said, although Clinton emphasized last week that "Any debate that pits sanctions against engagement creates a false choice. Going forward, we’ll need to employ both of these tools".

The policy change comes after acknowledgment by Clinton in February that sanctions had failed to push the junta along the path to democratic reform.

Campbell echoed her remark, saying that "Burma's continued estrangement from the international community harms the country and has direct negative consequences beyond Burma's borders".

"As we conducted this review, we recognized that ultimately, we need to change our methods but not our goals."

Reporting by Francis Wade


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