Story highlights

The U.S. hopes to "build on ... momentum" in Myanmar, a U.S. official says

U.S. sanctions have long been in place against Myanmar due to rights and other issues

On Thursday, Myanmar's foreign minister met with several key U.S. diplomats

Relations have thawed since political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi was freed last year

Washington CNN  — 

Myanmar’s foreign minister held a rare, historic meeting with U.S. officials Thursday in Washington following what a U.S. State Department spokesman characterized as positive developments after years of discord over human rights and other issues.

Derek Mitchell, the U.S. point-person for Myanmar, attended the meeting, as did two assistant secretaries of state – Kurt Campbell for East Asian affairs and Michael Posner for democracy, human rights and labor – U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday. The meeting took place inside the U.S. State Department’s main building in Washington.

The talks involving Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin follow “recent U.S. engagement efforts” with Myanmar authorities at the U.N. General Assembly as well as Mitchell’s trip earlier this month to the south Asian nation.

“We haven’t changed our basic … dual-track approach of sanctions (and) principled engagement,” said Toner in referring to the U.S. policy toward Myanmar, which he referred to as Burma. “But we do welcome recent developments … such as the government of Burma’s ongoing dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi.”

The nations have been at odds for years, with the U.S. instituting high-level sanctions in reaction with Myanmar rulers’ ongoing clampdown on their political foes. Most famous among them is Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent most of the past two decades in some form of detention before being freed a week after last November’s election.

In August, she met with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein at the presidential residence in Naypyitaw and the two vowed to work together in the nation’s interest, state media reported. Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said then that he thought the meeting “may be the first step towards reconciliation.”

The NLD party had been barred from participating in last November’s election after it refused to register under the nation’s new constitution, which automatically made it illegal. The constitution requires that parliament include more than 100 military nominees, a set-up critics say is aimed at tightening the regime’s grip on Myanmar. Critics also raised concerns the election would create a facade of democracy.

In a press briefing Thursday, Toner said U.S. officials are “going to continue to encourage progress on all the core issues” in Myanmar. That includes including the release of all political prisoners, an “inclusive dialogue” with opposition parties and ethnic minorities, adherence to U.N. non-proliferation agreements, greater accountability on human rights issues and an end to violence targeting ethnic majorities.

Despite such challenges, Toner said that there is reason for optimism, pointing to Mitchell’s recent trip to the region and Thursday’s talks.

“Ambassador Mitchell … was encouraged by his conversation with Burmese authorities, and I think we’re just trying to build on that momentum,” he said.