A senior US official said Tuesday that the time was not right to ease sanctions on Myanmar despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's plans for a groundbreaking visit next week.
Clinton will seek progress on human rights, including on the treatment of ethnic minorities, but it is "premature" to discuss lifting sweeping sanctions on the military-backed government, White House official Ben Rhodes said.
"The secretary's visit is in part to add momentum to what's taken place and to explore what's going forward but there are no plans right now to lift sanctions," Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters.
President Barack Obama announced last week at an East Asia Summit in Bali that Clinton would become the first US secretary of state to visit Myanmar in 50 years after the country's government undertook reforms.
It has opened talks with the opposition and ethnic minorities. The party of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi recently decided to rejoin mainstream politics after boycotting elections that were widely seen as unfair.
"We believe that there is very intensive follow-through on this Burma track that is going to be an important focus of the United States," Rhodes said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
The Obama administration hopes "to see if we can continue moving the ball forward on the types of reforms that we've seen in Burma," Rhodes said.
The administration has made dialogue with US adversaries a key part of its foreign policy and in 2009 opened talks with Myanmar's then military junta, offering to ease sanctions in return for progress on democracy.
The United States bans virtually all trade with Myanmar, including in its lucrative gem industry. Easing restrictions would require approval of Congress, where bills in support of sanctions have enjoyed overwhelming support.
Critics charge that Myanmar remains one of the world's most oppressive nations and still detains many of the dissidents it rounded up in a bloody crackdown on rare street protests in 2007.
Source: AFP American Edition