News / Asia

US Senators Signal Conditional Support for Lifting Burma Sanctions

U.S. Senator John McCain (2nd R) speaks as Senators Joseph Lieberman, Sheldon Whitehouse (L) and Kelly Ayotte (2nd L) look on during a press briefing in Hanoi January 19, 2012, one of the stops on their visit to Asia.
U.S. Senator John McCain (2nd R) speaks as Senators Joseph Lieberman, Sheldon Whitehouse (L) and Kelly Ayotte (2nd L) look on during a press briefing in Hanoi January 19, 2012, one of the stops on their visit to Asia.
Ron Corben

The United States is ready to lift economic sanctions against Burma if the country’s civilian government presses ahead on political reforms including free and fair elections this April.

The call was made by a visiting delegation of senior U.S. senators, led by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, who made a stop in Bangkok on their way to Burma.  Before the United States makes a final decision, the senators said they who say they will also look to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking to reporters Saturday, Senator McCain, while remaining cautious over the reform process, said a decision on sanctions lay with the international community and judgment on the reform progress in Burma.

“There is no doubt in my mind, absolutely certain that if this is a free and fair election, there will be no problem coordinating with every other country in the world to bring the sanctions to a close," McCain said. "I have to say that I am still a bit skeptical, not a lot, a bit skeptical, but I will certainly try to keep an open mind as we go through this process.”

The delegation will hold talks with government leader Burmese President Thein Sein and pro-democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma is to hold by-elections for the national parliament in April in which Aung San Suu Kyi is registered to stand as a candidate.

The U.S. imposed sanctions against Burma in 2003. They include bans on imports from Burma and a severing of financial services ties. In 2007, the bans were extended after the military suppressed street protests.

These included the freezing of individual overseas assets and those providing “material support” to Burma’s government. New investment by U.S. individuals and entities was also banned.

Some countries, such as Australia, as well as the European Union are now taking steps to ease sanctions after the release of hundreds of political prisoners. But other prisoners remain detained.

The U.S. government has recently upgraded diplomatic relations by restoring the post of ambassador following the prisoner release and a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Senator Joseph Lieberman said the U.S. would be looking to Aung San Suu Kyi for guidance over the timing of an easing of sanctions against Burma, also known as Myanmar.

“Our reaction to what happens in Myanmar will be greatly affected by the reaction of Aung San Suu Kyi. In other words we have great admiration for her not only for her but trust in her so I wouldn’t say we were giving her total veto but to the extent that she has confidence in the process we will have confidence in the process of change in Myanmar and as a result we will lift sanctions and grow closer to the government.”

In an interview this week with The Washington Post newspaper, Burma’s President Thein Sein, called for the West to lift sanctions. The president said his government had met international calls for the release of political prisoners, holding of elections and granting greater political freedom to Aung San Suu Kyi.  

But Suu Kyi in a recent interview said the U.S. should lift sanctions when “the time is right” and if Burma’s government had met the conditions for their removal.


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