U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that U.S. officials will be heavily influenced by the views of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as they consider whether to ease economic sanctions on the Southeast Asian nation.
McConnell, for decades a leading force behind the sanctions, also said he sees definite evidence of reform in Burma. He spoke to reporters in the administrative capital, Naypyitaw, where he traveled for talks with President Thein Sein.
The senator met a day earlier with Aung San Suu Kyi, who is expected to enter parliament in a by-election in April. He said her views are very important.
"Well first, obviously, Aung San Suu Kyi’s view about the appropriateness of lifting sanctions is something that will carry a lot of weight with members of the U.S. government, including myself. So how she feels about the direction of reform will have a lot of influence on us in the United States related to the decision to lift sanctions," he said.
McConnell, who leads the opposition Republican Party in the Senate, said the decision on sanctions will also be influenced by the results of the April 1 by-elections and whether the government is able to extend a recent cease-fire with Karen rebels to other ethnic groups.
He declined to speculate on the motives behind the reforms, which have been introduced by a new pro-military government that replaced a long-ruling junta in March 2010. But McConnell said there can be no doubt that the country is undergoing real change.
"Oh gosh, I don’t know the various factors that have been at work here to bring about reform in this country," he said. "I’m not going to judge what brought that about. But it’s happening. By any objective standard, it’s happening. If the sanctions were helpful, then that’s a good thing."
In its most recent reform act, the government last week released 651 political prisoners. The United States immediately responded by announcing an upgrade in diplomatic relations.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.