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US, Burma Discuss Possibility of Lifting American Sanctions

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, sees off Derek Mitchell, right, Washington's special representative to Burma, after their meeting at her home in Rangoon, Sept ember 12, 2011.

The U.S. special envoy to Burma says he has held discussions with the new government in Naypyitaw about conditions under which American sanctions could be lifted.

VOA interview with Derek Mitchell

Derek Mitchell, who arrived in the Burmese capital late last week, did not elaborate on what he told the Burmese leaders they will have to do. But he told VOA's Burmese service there have been encouraging gestures and the United States will be watching to see how Burma responds.

"There are conditions under which sanctions would be lifted. And, [I've] had that conversation in Naypyitaw," explained Mitchell. "So, we'll see how things develop here. There've been encouraging signs, you know, gestures and things that have happened here. And, we're just watching to see how it develops and we'll see how that goes and respond accordingly in Washington."

One such sign of change in Burma is the government's decision to let a reporter from VOA's Burmese service into the country. Reporter Khin Soe Win, who spoke to Mitchell in Rangoon, is the first staff journalist from the service to be admitted to Burma in almost 16 years.

Mitchell is on his first visit to Burma since being confirmed to the post by the U.S. Senate last month. State Department officials said he met in the capital Friday with the ministers of foreign affairs, labor, social welfare, information and border affairs. He is in Rangoon for talks with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others.

Mitchell told VOA his talks have been very productive so far, but it is too early to say whether the Obama administration's policy of engagement with Burma is producing results.

"Well, I think it's too soon for me to be commenting yet. I've been on the job for two weeks," noted Mitchell. "This has been a very productive trip so far but I'm only in really the second, third day. And, I'm here to learn and to listen and to engage and have very frank conversations and to see places like this, which are remarkable evidence of the vitality and the commitment of the people of this country. So, we'll see."

Burma's current government took office at the end of March, replacing a long-ruling military junta. Since then it has opened a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, permitted visits by international human rights monitors and held so-far unsuccessful peace talks with ethnic rebels in the north, meeting key demands of the international community.

But the new government is dominated by former military officers allied with the old regime and continues to hold more than 2,000 political prisoners.