The State Department said Monday that Burma's release of a jailed American to a visiting U.S. Senator will not by itself lead to an easing of U.S. sanctions against that country's military government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to discuss U.S. policy toward Burma with Senator Jim Webb when he returns from Asia in a few days.
The State Department says Burma's release of John Yettaw, though welcome, is not a significant enough gesture to lead to change in U.S. policy toward Burma, which includes a near-total trade ban.
Yettaw, who had been facing a seven-year prison term in Burma for entering the home of detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was released to visiting U.S. Senator Jim Webb on Sunday as he left Burma after a visit that included meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and the country's military leader, General Than Shwe.
Webb said the release of Yettaw could help build good will and confidence between the two governments, so they can have a "better situation" in the future.
At a news briefing here, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, P.J. Crowley expressed gratitude to Webb for securing the release of the 54 year-old Yettaw, who is in ill health.
But he said he did not think the release will change the Obama administration's Burma policy review. He added that U.S. officials are still looking for signs that the Burmese government is prepared for "meaningful dialogue" with Aung San Suu Kyi and the rest of the democratic opposition.
"Obviously, Burma needs to have a dialogue with a full range of ethnic minority leaders in Burma and move towards a peaceful transition to genuine democracy and national reconciliation. So we'll be looking for signs that Burma is fundamentally changing its approach and its policies. I don't think that Mr. Yettaw's release is an indication of that," he said.
Yettaw, who is now hospitalized in Bangkok, was sentenced last week in the same courtroom proceeding in which Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest was extended for another 18 months.
The extension ostensibly was imposed because she had allowed Yettaw into her home, in violation of terms of her detention. But U.S. officials say it was a move to keep her out of elections Burmese authorities plan for next year.
Crowley said Secretary Clinton spoke by telephone with Senator Webb on Sunday and that the two will meet when Webb returns from the region.
The Democrat from Virginia, who heads a key Senate subcommittee on East Asia, has sought an easing on tough U.S. sanctions on Burma, which he says have failed to move that country toward political reform. He told reporters in Bangkok that Aung San Suu Kyi is not opposed to the lifting of some sanctions.
A senior State Department official told reporters that the Obama administration will "listen closely" to the views of Aung San Suu Kyi in its policy review, and said that is one reason why Secretary Clinton looks forward to meeting with Senator Webb upon his return.
Webb is not traveling as an emissary of the Obama administration, although he was briefed by the State Department before his departure.