UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States will pursue deeper engagement with Myanmar’s military rulers to try to spur democratic reform but will not ease sanctions for now, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.
While acknowledging economic sanctions had failed to bring about change in Myanmar, Clinton said Washington had concluded in a policy review it had to maintain them while enhancing its dialogue with the isolated Southeast Asian nation.
“Any debate that pits sanctions against engagement creates a false choice. Going forward, we’ll need to employ both of these tools,” she said in remarks prepared for delivery to a group of nations seeking to promote change in the country.
Separately, a senior U.S. official told reporters that Washington planned to hold higher-level talks with Myanmar but he declined to say who would lead the discussions, saying both countries planned to identify their representatives later.
Myanmar plans next year to hold its first election in two decades, which the junta says will bring an end to almost five decades of unbroken military rule. Many analysts suspect the generals will still hold the real power.
Washington has gradually tightened sanctions on the generals who rule the country, formerly known as Burma, to try to force them into political rapprochement with Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In February, Clinton raised expectations the United States might lift some of its sanctions when she announced the Obama administration was reviewing its policy toward Myanmar.
In her comments, which previewed the policy review expected to be formally unveiled in the next few days, she made clear they would stay for now.
“Lifting sanctions now would send the wrong signal, and we will maintain our existing sanctions until we see concrete progress toward reform,” Clinton added, according to a text of her remarks released by the State Department.
“But we will be willing to discuss the easing of sanctions in response to significant actions on the part of Burma’s generals that address the core human rights and democracy issues that are inhibiting Burma’s progress,” she added.
The State Department released a text of Clinton’s remarks prepared for delivery to the “Group of Friends on Myanmar” — a collection of nations trying to promote democratic change in the country.
But the senior U.S. official warned against expecting quick progress.
“We’re going into this with eyes wide open,” said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition he not be identified. “The military has been in power since 1962. ... It’s unlikely that there is going to be dramatic change soon.”
Speaking after the group met, Clinton repeated U.S. demands that Myanmar’s military rulers immediately release Suu Kyi, embark on credible democratic reform and engage in serious dialogue with the opposition and ethnic minorities.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the group that it was imperative that Myanmar’s upcoming elections be held “in a an inclusive and credible manner.”
The opposition won a 1990 election landslide only to be denied power, and Suu Kyi has been in prison or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.
She was sentenced on August 12 to 18 more months of house arrest, enough to keep her sidelined for next year’s election.
Suu Kyi was indicted in May for breaking a security law protecting the state from “subversive elements” a few weeks before her house arrest was due to be lifted.
Her trial triggered international outrage and critics said the charges were trumped up by Myanmar’s military rulers to minimize her influence before Myanmar’s elections.
The charges stemmed from a bizarre incident in May, when an American, John Yettaw, swam to her lakeside home in Yangon and stayed there, uninvited, for two days. He was sentenced to seven years’ hard labor but was later deported.
Editing by Peter Cooney