The U.S. will only ease sanctions against Myanmar, not lift them, a U.S. official said as Republican lawmakers warned against engaging too quickly with the South Asian nation.
“There’s no intention to lift sanctions,” said Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in remarks yesterday to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “In certain prescribed areas, we would ease sanctions,” Campbell said, adding that the administration would work closely with lawmakers in doing so.
Campbell was testifying on the increasing U.S. engagement with Myanmar, officially still known as Burma under U.S. policy. Since a new government took power in March 2011 and initiated steps to liberalize after five decades of military rule, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled there in December. This month, Clinton announced that sanctions on financial transactions by non-profit groups would be relaxed to support humanitarian work inside the country.
The European Union and Australia recently announced they will ease sanctions, steps that drew criticism from several Republicans on the panel who argued that there has been little fundamental change.
“The rule of law in Burma continues to be non-existent,” said the chairman of the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Illinois Republican Representative Donald Manzullo. “Bribery and cronyism rule the day.”
If the U.S. lifts sanctions, “the people of Burma will see next to nothing,” Manzullo said. “A generation of efforts by human rights champions will be wasted. We must not let this happen.”
North Korea Ties
Lawmakers raised the issue of Myanmar’s close ties to North Korea, which is threatening to conduct a nuclear test imminently. Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican, said the April 1 voting that gave opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her party 43 out of 45 seats only covered less than seven percent of the legislature.
“That is still a small, small percentage, a sliver,” Royce said. “Progress this is, but progress can be quickly reversed.”
Campbell said work with the nation would happen in a slow and calibrated way.
“Although we assess this nascent opening as real and significant, we also believe it is fragile and reversible,” Campbell told the committee. “We need to carefully calibrate our approach to encourage continued progress.”
Campbell said that the reform efforts haven’t extended far beyond the capital and major cities. Fighting continues between the government and ethnic minority groups, and reports of human rights violations persist, Campbell said.
“Much more needs to be done” with unconditional releases of political prisoners, on ending hostilities in ethnic minority areas, on advancing civil society, on abandoning unfair laws and writing new ones, he said.
Campbell also said that the U.S. is pushing the nation to end proliferation activities and seeks “a full discontinuance, on the military side” of its ties with North Korea, Campbell said. “Countries are judged by the company they keep and we think that is extremely important,” he said.
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