Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh conducted a bilateral trip to Burma March 24-27. Although the visit was characterized as ""not substantive,"" Singh achieved dual objectives of maintaining dialogue with Burma at the political level and pushing for certain development projects.
29750, 3/30/2005 11:17, 05 RANGOON 379, Embassy Rangoon, CONFIDENTIAL, 05 NEWDELHI 2220, "This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.301117Z Mar 05","C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000379
STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV; PACOM FOR FPA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/29/2015 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, ECON, BM, IN SUBJECT: ALL SMILES: INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER'S VISIT TO BURMA
REF: A. NEW DELHI 2220
B. NEW DELHI 2185 AND PREVIOUS C. RANGOON 358 D. 04 RANGOON 1425 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: COM Carmen Martinez for Reasons 1.4 (b,d)
1. (C) Summary: The latest in a string of high-profile regional visitors to Rangoon (ref C), Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh conducted a bilateral trip to Burma March 24-27. Although the visit was characterized as ""not substantive,"" Singh achieved dual objectives of maintaining dialogue with Burma at the political level and pushing for certain development projects. His meetings with top GOB officials, including SPDC Chairman Than Shwe, were perfunctory and consisted of standard SPDC lectures on regime achievements and progress. FM Singh knows Aung San Suu Kyi personally and, according to the Indian Embassy, ""holds her in high esteem."" However, Singh made no reference to her or the democratic opposition during his four-day visit, an Indian pattern of engagement with the regime that sticks to platitudes and doesn't rock the boat. End Summary.
2. (SBU) On March 30, Indian Embassy DCM Rahul Kulshreshth provided a read-out on Minister of External Affairs Shri K. Natwar Singh's March 24-27 visit to Burma. This was FM Singh's first visit to Burma since accompanying then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Rangoon in 1987. Singh visited both Rangoon and Mandalay on this trip and was joined by two aides and his wife.
3. (C) According to Kulshreshth, who participated in Singh's entire schedule, the Foreign Minister's visit was ""due."" The last Indian FM visit to Burma was for a trilateral meeting (with Thailand) in 2002 and, in the interim, the Burmese have sent a foreign minister five times to New Delhi, the latest being with SPDC Chairman Than Shwe on his October 2004 state visit to India. Kulshreshth said that Singh's trip was actually the result of an invitation from former Foreign Minister Win Aung, who ironically was sacked the day after issuing the invitation in September 2004.
4. (C) Kulshreshth described the four-day visit as ""successful,"" noting that the GOB had made a number of ""significant"" gestures, including allowing the visit to go forward on the dates proposed by New Delhi, which coincided with the regime's ongoing National Convention (NC) and the lead-up to Armed Forces Day. Although the visit was characterized as ""not substantive,"" FM Singh achieved his dual objectives of maintaining dialogue with Burma at the political level and pushing for certain development projects of benefit to Mizoram, including the Kaladan multi-modal transport project (Rakhine State) and a GOI-funded road project to improve access to a border-trade crossing opened in January 2004 (Chin State). Additional highlights of Kulshreshth's read-out:
--On March 25, Singh met separately with FM Nyan Win and PM Soe Win. Nyan Win read a prepared statement (""of little value,"" said Kulshreshth, describing the meeting as a simple courtesy call) and, uncharacteristically, the Burmese FM gave a toast at a dinner he hosted that evening for Singh, but again relied on ""cleared talking points."" PM Soe Win, during a 35-minute meeting, gave Singh a ""familiar lecture"" on the SPDC's National Convention and sundry achievements (""I could give the same spiel by now,"" Kulshreshth said wryly). FM Singh inquired about the GOB's timetable for the NC process, to which Soe Win said ""it's up to the (hand-picked) delegates to decide."" Singh also asked how the delegates had been ""elected"" and Soe Win gave a ""tired"" response about diverse class and ethnic representation at the NC.
--On March 26, Singh called on Senior General Than Shwe, who was joined by the SPDC's top five officers. Kulshreshth observed that Chairman Than Shwe was confident, dominated the meeting (none of his subordinates spoke), and appeared to be in excellent health. SPDC Vice Chairman Maung Aye, in contrast, was fatigued and looked as though he had aged. Than Shwe used up most of the 45-minute meeting with an unremarkable lecture, but the Senior General did complain that international pressure ""only slows down"" the regime's road map process. Kulshreshth said that FM Singh drew the meeting to a close by deferentially suggesting that ""a mere Foreign Minister shouldn't waste the precious time of a Head of State."" --Singh and his GOB interlocutors also touched briefly upon mutual security issues. Foreign Minister Singh raised India's ""northeast problem"" and ""received assurances"" from the GOB on further cooperation to address border insurgent activities.
--After his Rangoon stay, Singh made an overnight trip to Mandalay to check in with the Indian Consulate General, attend a dinner hosted by the SPDC's regional military commander, and visit the site of a former jail that once housed Indian freedom fighters during the Indian independence movement.
5. (C) Kulshreshth said that FM Singh knows Aung San Suu Kyi personally from her school days in India and he ""holds her in high esteem."" However, in response to our inquiry, Kulshreshth said that Singh made no reference to her in any of his meetings nor did he raise issues related to the democratic opposition, including National League for Democracy (NLD). ""What the Foreign Minister has to say on these (political) issues,"" said the Indian DCM, ""he has already conveyed to the Burmese during their visits to Delhi.""
6. (C) Comment: FM Singh's Burma visit, from our perspective, fits a pattern of engagement with the regime that the GOI has now well established (ref D): stick to platitudes and don't rock the boat. When we raised Prime Minister Manmahon Singh's recent adoption of democracy and open economies as core foreign policy values (ref A), Kulshreshth said that India ""has evolved in its outlook toward the region; however, we will remain pragmatic in our posture toward Burma."" That's a severe blow to the leaders of Burma's beleaguered democratic opposition, most of whom draw their inspiration from India's historic struggle for independence and democracy. End Comment.