News / Asia

US Sending Senior Diplomat to Meet New Burmese Government

The United States is sending a senior diplomat for “introductory” talks with leaders of Burma’s new, nominally-civilian, government. The new government was seated in late March to replace a military junta but U.S. officials say the military retains effective control.

Officials here say the dispatch of the diplomat to Burma does not reflect any easing of the critical U.S. view of the political changes there, but that the Obama administration remains committed to trying dialogue with Burma.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Joseph Yun is due to leave Washington Wednesday for a visit to Burma spanning three days.

The senior diplomat last visited Burma in December and so his visit his week will be the first since the new government was sworn in on March 30th.

The military junta that ruled Burma for decades ceded power at that time, following a national election in November that was widely criticized as a sham.

A quarter of the seats in the new parliament were set aside for military officers and more than half of the remaining seats were won by a pro-military party.

Announcing the Yun visit, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said the United States still considers the political process in Burma badly flawed and does not approach this week’s talks with any illusions. “It’s consistent with our two-track approach to Burma. There’s nothing [unduly optimistic] about this. We recognize that there’s some fairly serious challenges to address in this relationship. But we’re going to continue to pursue a dual-track policy that involves pressure, but also principled engagement," he said.

A senior official who spoke to reporters said that in addition to meeting government officials and civil society members, Yun will try to meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed last November after spending most of the previous 20 years in detention.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won Burmese elections in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power. The November elections were largely boycotted by the opposition.

In a notice to Congress Monday, President Barack Obama renewed U.S. economic sanctions against Burma, including a near-total trade ban, that would have otherwise expired this month.

The routine extension notice said Burma is still engaged in actions hostile to U.S. interests including the large-scale repression of the democratic opposition.

The State Department also Monday dismissed a limited clemency program announced by Burmese President Thein Sein that would among other things cut sentences for all Burmese prisoners by a year.

It said Burma should immediately free all of the country’s estimated 2,200 political prisoners.

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