A senior U.S. official says there is evidence that Southeast Asian nations are increasingly willing to press for political change in Burma.

Testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric John noted that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have long been reluctant to meddle in one another's internal affairs.

So he welcomed recent actions by some ASEAN nations on the issue of Burma. They include comments by Malaysia's foreign minister following a visit to Burma in which he expressed concern about the pace of reform there and the regime's failure to allow him to meet with democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who's under house arrest. He also noted that during a visit to China by the Burmese Prime Minister last month, Beijing called for national reconciliation in Burma.

"Key countries in the region have begun to speak out, and international pressure on the regime to change its misguided policies is slowly mounting," said Eric John. "Burma's road to democracy is neither short nor straight, but by pressing on with our intense efforts we believe we can effectively shorten the time it will take to achieve the freedom, prosperity and security for which Burma and its people so desperately earned and so richly deserve."

John said - in his words - because of the Burmese regime's self-imposed isolation and apparent imperviousness to outside pressure, it will take an extraordinary effort by the international community to persuade Burma's rulers to begin and sustain a process of full national reconciliation.

Toward that end, he said the United States continues to work for ways to keep Burma on the United Nations agenda and is actively exploring ways to build U.N. Security Council consensus on the need for further discussions and possible Council action.

He also called on Congress to renew sanctions on Burma again this year.

"Our sanctions continue to play a critical role, reminding the regime that its behavior is unacceptable, and that its leaders will remain isolated as long as they continue this behavior," he said. "They also provide important moral support for the democratic opposition in Burma and ensure that American companies will not help fund the luxurious lifestyles of a select few."

Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, agreed, saying sanctions should remain in place until Aung San Suu Kyi and other democracy advocates call for them to be lifted.