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US Ambassador to Burma Sees Growing Ties Between Countries

  • VOA News

Derek Mitchell, the U.S ambassador to Burma, talks to journalists during the first press conference after he became ambassador at the U.S Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, July 20, 2012.
The U.S. ambassador to Burma says there is "excellent momentum" in the relationship between the United States and Burma, but acknowledged there are enormous challenges ahead.

Derek Mitchell told VOA that his new appointment demonstrates Washington's commitment to building the relationship. Mitchell arrived in Burma earlier this month as the first U.S. ambassador to that country in 22 years.

"My appointment, whether it is me or anyone else - the fact that there is an ambassador for the first time in 22 years - I think speaks to the commitment now of this administration, of the United States generally, even our Congress, to take the relationship to another level,” said Mitchell.

The United States has been re-engaging Burma after a new, nominally civilian government took over in March of last year and began implementing reforms. Mitchell said his office would be responding to positive changes in Burma.

"Clearly, we have said from the start - really a year ago, we can even start in 2009 - that we are going to be responding to changes that occur on the ground,” he said. “That we will be responding for action with action. And we have seen continuing action, continuing momentum towards reform. And I think we are trying to keep up with that."

Mitchell acknowledged that Burma faces many challenges to becoming a democratic country.

"It is premature to say that all is well or that this process is inevitably going to lead towards a positive or stable solution. As you lay out, there are enormous challenges that lay ahead,” said Mitchell. “Nobody has any illusions about the challenges to come, or the challenges of keeping unity or democracy in line. The key is to keep moving in the right direction. And move step by step."

Mitchell said he has many goals in his new role, including traveling the country to begin to build a better relationship.

"I want to get around the country, meet all different types of people from every different section of Burma. I think that is very important to build that understanding because we have been separated for so long," he said.

Mitchell said he also will work to encourage an open and free media in Burma, and help to facilitate more military contacts between the United States and Burma.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced it is easing restrictions on U.S. companies interested in doing business in Burma. A White House statement said easing such sanctions will provide immediate incentives for reformers and benefit the Burmese people.