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US: Burma Engagement Not Ending Despite 'Disappointing' Envoy Visit

The State Department says the Obama administration is not giving up on engagement with Burma, despite what it called a "disappointing" weekend visit there by a senior U.S. envoy. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell was allowed to meet with detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Campbell had made a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi a condition for visiting Burma. Although he was allowed to meet the detained Nobel Peace laureate at a government guest house, he apparently made no headway in changing Burmese plans for an election that U.S. officials warn will have no credibility.

The Burma visit was Campbell's second since November under an Obama administration effort to engage the reclusive East Asian military government and prod it toward reform.

Campbell said in a departure statement on Monday that he was "profoundly disappointed" with the response of Burmese authorities to his appeals to open up the country's electoral process.

He said that although he presented a proposal for a "credible" political dialogue among all stakeholders in Burma, the military government said it will move ahead unilaterally with plans for an election that Campbell said will lack international legitimacy.

There were similar comments from State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley, who said U.S. efforts to engage the military authorities will nevertheless continue with the support of Aung San Suu Kyi.

"As to our efforts to continue to engage, it is why Kurt Campbell went," said P.J. Crowley. "And, in fact, during the course of his conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi, she shared his disappointment that the government was not more forthcoming, was not willing to expand political space, was not willing to have meaningful dialogue with its ethnic groups. But she also continued to support U.S. efforts and international efforts to engage the Burmese government."

Crowley gave no indication of when or how engagement might continue. But he said the Obama administration will continue to press Burmese officials for election changes.

He also said the United States wants Burma to live up to its obligations under last year's U.N. Security Council resolution, tightening an arms embargo against North Korea, although he did not specify how Burma might have violated its terms.

Rules for the Burmese election, to be held sometime later this year, effectively bar Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party from taking part, even though the NLD won the country's last election in 1990 but was barred from taking power.

Human rights groups long critical of the Burmese military government have voiced general support for the U.S. outreach effort.

But Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, says she doubts Burmese authorities will change course unless international sanctions are tightened.

"In principle, I think, there's nothing wrong with him [Assistant Secretary of State Campbell] meeting the SPDC [the military government]," said Sophie Richardson. "But I think the reality is that no amount of dialogue is going to work, unless it is attached to consequential actions like the full implementation of banking sanctions and pursuit of a commission of inquiry for war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Former President George W. Bush's administration imposed a near total trade ban against Burma because of its human rights record. Campbell stressed Monday that U.S. sanctions will continue under President Barack Obama.

The U.S. diplomat said he was "moved" by Aung San Suu Kyi's perseverance and commitment to a more just and benevolent Burma, despite her years of detention. He said it is "simply tragic" that authorities have rebuffed her many appeals to work together to solve the country's problems.