US envoy discusses sanctions with Myanmar’s Suu Kyi

YANGON: A senior US diplomat discussed economic sanctions with Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi Friday during the first high-level visit by a Washington envoy since her release last month.

Joseph Yun, the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, described his more than two hours of talks with the Nobel Peace Prize winner at her Yangon home as “very productive”.

“We had a very useful exchange. I learned a lot,” he told reporters, noting that it was his first visit to the military-ruled country.

Suu Kyi, who was freed by Myanmar’s military rulers from her most recent seven-year stretch of detention on November 13, confirmed the talks had included the issue of sanctions, among others, but declined to elaborate.

“We talked openly and I believe that the relationship between the US and ourselves will be warm,” she said.

The United States bans trade with companies tied to the junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma. It also freezes such firms’ assets and blocks international loans for the state.

US President Barack Obama’s administration launched a dialogue with Myanmar’s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had yielded little success.

But it has said it will only lift sanctions in return for progress on democracy and other concerns.

After years of espousing punitive steps against the ruling generals, Suu Kyi has shown signs of softening her stance on the measures, although she has said little about the issue since her release.

In September 2009, she wrote to junta chief Than Shwe offering suggestions about how to get Western sanctions against the country lifted.

The democracy icon was sidelined during a rare election last month that was widely criticised by democracy activists and Western governments as anything but free and fair.

Obama said Myanmar’s “bankrupt regime” had stolen the vote, which handed an overwhelming majority to the military’s political proxy and was marred by allegations of intimidation and vote rigging.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the last 21 years locked up, has welcomed the renewed US engagement with Myanmar but warned against “rose-coloured glasses”, saying greater human rights and economic progress were still needed.

Her party won a 1990 election but was never allowed to take power.

It boycotted the November 7 vote — the first in two decades — because of rules that appeared to exclude Suu Kyi from participating. The party was subsequently disbanded by the junta.

Yun arrived in the military-ruled country on Tuesday and also met with representatives of 10 political parties that won seats in last month’s election, as well as government officials including Foreign Minister Nyan Win.

During his meetings with the Myanmar authorities, Yun said Washington “remains open to direct dialogue to make meaningful progress on our core concerns including improving human rights and release of political prisoners,” according to a statement released by the US embassy in Yangon.

In his talks with the opposition, he “underscored our overarching goal of a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma and discussed ideas on promoting reconciliation and dialogue,” it added.

He was the highest-ranking US official to visit since May, when Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell met with Suu Kyi and said Washington was “profoundly disappointed” by the vote preparations.

Yun’s visit coincided with the release of leaked diplomatic cables showing that Washington has been concerned for years about a suspected secret nuclear programme in Myanmar with the possible involvement of North Korea.

One cable from the US embassy in Yangon, dated August 2004 and released Thursday by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, quoted an unidentified witness who reported seeing 300 North Koreans working at a secret construction site.

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