US should aim to lift Myanmar sanctions: senator

AFP
AFP American Edition

Apr 02, 2009 20:00 EDT

The United States should take a new approach of engagement with military-run Myanmar with an aim of lifting sanctions, a key senator said Friday.

President Barack Obama's administration is reviewing strategy on Myanmar, also known as Burma, whose ruling junta has crushed dissent and kept pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 19 years.

Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia, said the United States needed an "aggressive diplomatic posture" on Myanmar but one that was more "constructive."

"Certainly the way that we approach it now I don't believe has had the results that people want it to have," Webb, a member of Obama's Democratic Party, told a luncheon at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"What I think we should be doing in Burma is trying to open up diplomatic avenues where you can have confidence builders ... and through that process work toward some way where you can remove sanctions," he said.

Webb said any diplomacy between the United States and Myanmar should closely involve other countries, particularly members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which includes Myanmar.

ASEAN nations, along with Japan and China, have maintained cordial relations and trade with Myanmar, distancing themselves from the sanctions policy of the United States and the European Union.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said Wednesday the United States was seeking a common approach with Asia on Myanmar and said the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program could serve as a model.

Webb -- a Vietnam veteran who has also been a journalist -- said the United States should look at how it opened relations with China and Vietnam despite human rights and other concerns in the two communist states.

Webb said that when he returned to Vietnam in 1991 -- four years before Washington and Hanoi established relations -- the situation was "worse than the conditions I saw in Burma in '01."

Source: AFP American Edition