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US Lawmaker Notes Progress in Burma

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, left, listens to Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talk to journalists during a press conference after their meeting at her home in Rangoon, January 16, 2012.
U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, left, listens to Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talk to journalists during a press conference after their meeting at her home in Rangoon, January 16, 2012.
Michael Bowman

A top U.S. lawmaker is applauding political reforms in Burma, but says more change is needed.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently returned from a trip to Burma, where he met with democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein.

The Senate's top Republican took to the chamber floor to deliver a hopeful and cautiously-optimistic message on Burma, which he described as having been one of the world's "most isolated and oppressed" nations.

"Many of us wondered if things would ever change in Burma.  After my recent visit, I am pleased to say that change is clearly in the air," said McConnell.  "It appears Burma has made some progress towards democracy in the past six months, made more than it has in decades.  I can tell you this is welcome news."

Mitch McConnell is a lead author of annual bills imposing sanctions on Burma.  He praised the country's transition toward civilian rule and the freeing of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past two decades under house arrest.  The two met last week in Rangoon.

"By her courage and her patience, that justice delayed would not be justice denied, Aung San Suu Kyi has kept the hope of freedom in her country alive," added McConnell.  "Never did I think I would get to meet the Nobel laureate in person.  And, Mr. President, it was quite a moment."

McConnell said Burma's government has taken "undeniably positive steps towards reform," and endorsed the exchange of ambassadors between Washington and Rangoon, but he said more must be done.

"The government of Burma still has a substantial way to go to achieve real and lasting reform," said McConnell.  "I do not support, and I do not think the [Obama] administration would support lifting the [U.S.] sanctions that have been imposed unless there is much further progress."

McConnell listed upcoming parliamentary elections as an important test of that progress, and urged a full reconciliation between Burma's government and the country's ethnic minorities.  He also demanded full disclosure of Burma's dealings with North Korea.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post newspaper, Burma's president argued his country has complied with Western demands, adding he would like to see U.S. sanctions eased and eventually dropped.

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