I agree with the principle, sanctions and negotiations but in reality does that mean- we want to counter China’s influence, get some of our own and human rights can go hang. I shall judge on results.

New strategy will involve high-level engagement with Burmese leaders while keeping sanctions in place. The US government is to embark on a major policy shift towards Burma after concluding that its long-term policy of sanctions had failed to sway the junta.

The US state department confirmed today that the new strategy, while keeping sanctions in place, will involve high-level engagement with Burmese leaders, in line with Barack Obama’s general policy of talking with countries it regards as international pariahs.

Obama, in contrast with George Bush’s administration, has already offered to hold direct talks with Iran and North Korea.

The shift was signalled on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York last night when the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the US will move “in the direction of both engagement and continued sanctions”.

Speaking to foreign ministers at a Friends of Burma meeting, she said: “Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion. So, going forward we will be employing both of those tools, pursuing our same goals. To help achieve democratic reform, we will be engaging directly with Burmese authorities.”

Sanctions, which are imposed by the European Union as well as the US, would be eased if the junta was to move towards significant reform, she said.

The US is pushing for the introduction of democracy and the release of the opposition leader and Nobel Peace prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Opposition groups and supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi gave the US shift a cautious welcome.

Maran Turner, a lawyer and executive director of Freedom Now, a Washington-based group, that has been campaigning for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, said: “We are glad that the Obama administration is turning its attention to Burma. I agree it is time for a multi-faceted approach.” But she questioned the value of engagement if it only involved the US and the junta and not the opposition.

The strategy shift comes at the end of a policy review on Burma ordered by Clinton is February.

The move coincides with a visit by the Burmese leader Than Shwe to the UN general assembly, the first senior member of the junta to attend for 14 years. In an effort to try to ease criticism of the country’s human rights record ahead of his visit, the junta last week declared an amnesty for about 7,000 prisoners. The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, said the amnesty fell “short of expectations”. Human rights groups estimate Burma has 2,200 political prisoners.

Ban, speaking after the meeting with Clinton, said next year will be critical for Burma when it is scheduled to hold an election. Opposition groups have already labelled the elections a sham.


Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmese opposition leader, has welcomed the announcement of a shift in US policy towards engagement with the south-east Asian nation.

Suu Kyi’s comments, released by her lawyer on Thursday, came a day after Washington mooted a potential easing of sanctions if engagement with Naypyidaw brings political reform.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that direct engagement is good … but must be with both sides [government and opposition],” Nyan Win, her lawyer, told the AFP news agency after meeting her at her home in Yangon.


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