U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton challenged the leaders of Myanmar on Thursday to continue and expand reforms. She offered the isolated country a small package of rewards for steps it has already taken but made clear that more must be done, including breaking military ties with North Korea.
She said the U.S. was ready to further improve relations with the civilian government in the Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma but only if it stays on the path of democratisation. In a series of modest first steps, she announced that Washington would allow Myanmar’s participation in a U.S.-backed grouping of Mekong River countries; no longer block enhanced cooperation between the country and the International Monetary Fund; and support intensified U.N. health, microfinance and counter-narcotics programs.
On a historic visit, Ms. Clinton offered the country future incentives, including the prospect of upgraded diplomatic ties, in return for steps that include releasing political prisoners and ending ethnic violence with aggressive efforts at national reconciliation.
“I came to assess whether the time is right for a new chapter in our shared history,” Ms. Clinton told reporters after meeting Myanmar President Thein Sein and other senior government officials in the capital of Naypyidaw.
“The United States is prepared to walk the path of reform with you if you keep moving in the right direction,” Ms. Clinton said. After decades of repressive military rule, she said President Barack Obama was willing to explore improved and expanded ties “to reward reforms with steps to lessen (Myanmar’s) isolation and improve the lives of its citizens.”
In an ornate room at Naypidaw’s grandiose presidential palace a monstrous-sized building with 40-foot to 60-foot ceilings replete with gold gilt, giant teak doors and white marble floors that lies off an enormous but empty 20-lane highway Mr. Thein Sein appeared eager to embrace the opening with the United States. He told Ms. Clinton her visit was a “historic milestone” that would “enhance relations and cooperation.”
Ms. Clinton replied that she was visiting because the U.S. was “encouraged by the steps that you and your government have taken to provide for your people.”
Yet, she also made clear that those steps must be consolidated and enlarged if the U.S. is to consider easing near-blanket economic sanctions that block almost all American commercial transactions with Myanmar.
“While measures already taken may be unprecedented and certainly welcome, they are just a beginning,” she told reporters. She called for the release of political prisoners and an end to brutal ethnic violence that has ravaged the nation for decades.