photo by jon nicholson

news - Update: Visit by Burmese Official Hints at US Policy Shift

september 23rd, 2009

"For the first time in nine years, the United States allowed Burma's foreign minister to come to Washington, a sign of softening US policy toward the military junta that has run that Asian nation for nearly five decades.

Maj. Gen. Nyan Win quietly arrived in Washington on Friday night and left the next day after meetings with Burmese Embassy staffers, a US-Asian business council and Sen. James Webb, the Virginia Democrat who has advocated closer ties to the junta, according to Kyaw Win, an embassy spokesman. The foreign minister also took in some sightseeing, visiting the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. A State Department spokesman said Nyan Win did not meet with administration officials.

The main goal of the trip was to evaluate the Burmese Embassy, which needs repairs, Kyaw Win said. 'The approval is a good sign though,' he said. 'We didn't get permission for many years.'

Nyan Win's 24-hour sojourn appears to be part of a new policy by the Obama administration toward Burma, said officials and sources familiar with the trip. The policy encourages US officials to engage the government of Burma on a higher level.

To that end, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Group of Friends of Burma, established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on Wednesday. In addition, Burma's prime minister, Gen. Thein Sein, will appear at the ongoing UN General Assembly, making him the most senior junta member to attend the annual gathering since the nation's second-in-command did so in 1995. He is expected to meet there with Kurt M. Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, according to a source briefed by US officials.

US policy toward Burma has been under review for nine months; American officials met Friday to iron out the final details, and the results are expected to be announced soon.

US officials and other sources said the Obama administration decided that economic sanctions first imposed on the junta in the 1990s will not be lifted but will not be tightened either. More humanitarian aid may be approved, too. Administration officials would not comment on the possible changes."

MORE: "Visit by Burmese Official Hints at US Policy Shift" (Wash. Post)

PREVIOUSLY: "US Allows Burma Minister to Visit Washington"

FURTHER READING: "Thai leader says US moving toward engaging Burma" (AP)

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