US to step up engagement with Burma

Sept 24, 2009 (DVB), The United States will look now to engage directly with Burma despite continuing with its policy of sanctions on the regime, it announced yesterday following a review of US strategy to Burma.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that it was wrong to assume that sanctions and dialogue could not be pursued side by side.

"Any debate that pits sanctions against engagement creates a false choice. Going forward, we’ll need to employ both of these tools," she told the Group of Friends on Myanmar [Burma].

Clinton was speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, which was attended by a 15-member delegation from Burma, including prime minister Thein Sein. It is the most senior-level diplomatic visit to the US by the Burmese government in 14 years.

A US official told Reuters yesterday that Washington had plans to hold higher-level talks with the ruling junta, but declined to say who would lead the discussions.

The announcement comes after months of speculation over how the new Obama administration would approach the pariah Southeast Asian state.

Clinton said in February that a review of policy was needed in light of the failure of sanctions to force change from the junta.

Critics of sanctions argue that Burma's close political and economic relationship with neighbouring countries, most notably China, dampens the impact of an embargo.

The pro-sanctions lobby on the other hand argues that increasing engagement with the ruling junta despite receiving no concessions rewards the military generals for their intransigence.

A senior State Department official told a press briefing yesterday that the review will be formalized "in the next day or two", and would comprise of "a mix of tools", both sanctions and dialogue.

"We're not expecting dramatic, immediate results. It's not an easy situation to resolve, and it's unlikely that there's going to be dramatic change soon," he said.

"But we think that going forward with a more nuanced approach that focuses on trying to achieve results and that's based on pragmatism, it increases the chances of success over time."

He added that the US had heard from the Burmese government "fairly clearly, for the first time in many years, an interest in engaging with [Washington] and improving relations with us".

Reporting by Francis Wade

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