U.S. to ease Myanmar sanctions, open relations

The Aung San Suu Kyi-led opposition victory in recent elections has encouraged the United States.

Story highlights

  • Sunday's elections were a "dramatic demonstration of popular will," Clinton says
  • The vote was a victory for long-imprisoned Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi
  • The Obama administration is now taking steps to normalize relations with Myanmar
Responding to Myanmar's parliamentary elections, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a "dramatic demonstration of popular will," the Obama administration is taking several significant steps to normalize relations with the country.
In an announcement at the State Department Wednesday, Clinton said the administration is consulting with Congress, with European and Asian allies and others on the U.S. response. She said the United States is prepared to seek agreement from the government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, for an ambassador to the country and to establish an in-country mission by the United States Agency for International Development.
In addition, the U.S. would seek to enable American-based private organizations to pursue activities including building democracy, improving health and education, and facilitating travel to the United States for select government officials and members of parliament.
The U.S. does not have a wholesale travel ban, a senior State Department officials told reporters, but does restrict travel of certain officials from Myanmar, including members of the military, those involved in repression of human rights and cabinet ministers and vice ministers.
Now, the United States will facilitate travel for "select, reform-minded officials" who are engaging with the U.S. and other countries. Invitations will be issued "in the coming days," the official said. The foreign minister has been invited and the health minister is expected to be visiting Washington soon.
The administration will also begin the process of easing some of the sanctions on financial services and investment to the country. However, sanctions and prohibitions, Clinton said, will stay in place on "individuals and institutions that remain on the wrong side of these reform efforts."
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On the proposed easing of financial services and investment ban, one official said, it will be a "step by step" process.
"We will identify the areas and sectors we think are most likely to make an immediate impact on the livelihood of the people in the country and will highlight areas that we think are impeding reform." The use of credit cards currently is not possible in Myanmar, and some small steps, the official said, "will allow business to flourish and opportunities to take hold."
Another State Department official described the steps as a "measured, incremental approach... to send a clear signal of support for the reform process and reformers."
"We are taking the bluntness out of the sanctions, now focusing on targeting sanctions on "regressive" and "corrupt elements" that still exist, the official said.
"It's important to underscore just how far we've come in seven months since August. It's remarkable."
The government of Myanmar has taken significant steps, including release of political prisoners, that "all point in a positive direction," the official said.
"At the same time, we have no illusions about the road ahead in Burma," the official noted, "and there remain severe challenges down the road."
Clinton said the United States will continue to monitor developments in Myanmar, seeking improvements in human rights, the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the lifting of conditions on all those who have been released.
Sunday's parliamentary elections in Myanmar included victory for long-imprisoned Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party. The National League for Democracy won at laest 40 of the 44 seats that it contested, according to partial results announced by the National Electoral Commission on state television.