* US to move cautiously, saying Myanmar has long way to go
* Clinton says "we fully recognize" positive changes
* US may ease a ban on companies investing in Myanmar
By Paul Eckert and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON, April 4 The United States said on
Wednesday it was ready to relax some sanctions on Myanmar to
recognize its fledgling democratic transition, including a ban
on U.S. companies investing in or offering financial services to
However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed
the Obama administration wanted to move cautiously, saying that
the resource-rich Southeast Asian country has a long way to go
to shake off decades of military rule.
Clinton hailed as a "dramatic demonstration of popular will"
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's gaining of a seat
in the lower house in a parliamentary by-election on Sunday
which yielded a landslide victory for her party.
"We fully recognize and embrace the progress that has taken
place and we will continue our policy of engagement," Clinton
said in a brief appearance before reporters three days after Suu
Kyi's party won 43 of 45 seats available in the by-election.
The package Clinton unveiled on Wednesday reflected a modest
first step toward lifting the complex web of U.S. sanctions that
have contributed to the country's isolation for decades.
The United States will seek to name an ambassador to Myanmar
after an absence of two decades, to set up an office of the U.S.
Agency for International Development there and to support a
regular U.N. Development Program operation in the country.
Clinton also said the United States was committed to
"beginning the process of a targeted easing of our ban on the
export of U.S. financial services and investment as part of a
broader effort to help accelerate economic modernization and
political reform." She provided no details.
U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said some
of the areas that might be ripe for an easing of the investment
ban were agriculture, tourism, telecommunications and banking
but said these were simply possibilities and no decisions had
Clinton said the United States was also ready to allow
private U.S. aid groups to pursue non-profit activities on
projects such as democracy building, health and education and to
give select Myanmar officials and lawmakers permission to visit
the United States, relaxing long-standing visa bans.
"A LONG WAY TO GO"
U.S. officials said they want Myanmar to free all political
prisoners, lift restrictions on those who have already been
released, seek national reconciliation, especially with ethnic
groups that say they have long been oppressed by the central
government, and to end any military ties to North Korea.
"This reform process has a long way to go. The future is
neither clear nor certain. But we will continue to monitor
developments closely and meet, as I said when I was there (in
Myanmar), action with action," Clinton said.
President Thein Sein, a general in the former military
junta, has surprised the world with the most dramatic political
reforms since the military took power in a 1962 coup in the
former British colony then known as Burma.
In several batches following an October 2011 amnesty, the
civilian administration under Thein Sein has released more than
600 political prisoners. Activists say several hundred more may
still be in custody, but the exact number is not clear.
Walter Lohman of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative
think tank, welcomed the cautious U.S. approach, saying some
steps should wait until after a 2015 election in which 75
percent of parliamentary seats in Myanmar will be contested.
"We need to reserve some ammunition for the real goal - the
2015 general election. Let's not give it away too quickly," he
said, saying he favored easing the visa bans, opening a USAID
office and sending an ambassador but reserved judgment on easing
the financial sanctions "until there is more detail."
Economic analysts say that it will take time for the United
States to unravel the full scope of its sanctions on Myanmar,
first imposed in 1988 and subsequently expanded by five laws and
four presidential directives.
A U.S. official described the sanctions as "byzantine" and
said Washington would focus on easing sanctions so as to benefit
the most people while avoiding giving advantage to areas -
possibly including timber and gems - dominated by "repressive"
elements of the authorities.
While some sanctions can be lifted by fiat, others are tied
to specific progress on issues ranging from drug trafficking and
money laundering to preventing the use of child soldiers -
making them more difficult to remove. In the first instance, the
administration plans to use waivers, licenses and other steps to
ease sanctions rather than seeking to repeal laws on the books.
Aung Din, head of the U.S. Campaign for Burma advocacy group
that helped put in place sanctions on Myanmar, suggested that
the United States may have gone too far too fast.
"What they have achieved from the United States for giving
seven percent of seats in the Parliament to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
is enormous," he said, saying she hoped the administration would
take its time easing sanctions to ensure the political progress
in Myanmar is "irreversible" and to consult rights groups.