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For years a military government has ruled Burma wielding repressive power that denies its people basic freedoms, persecutes ethnic minorities, jails political opponents and quashes even peaceful protests with at times deadly force. And for years the United States and other nations have responded with economic, travel and other sanctions against the Rangoon government, its leaders and financial supporters in an effort to persuade them to ease their grip and pave the way for a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Burma.
This approach has done little to bring about such changes, however. So after a lengthy review of these policies the United States has decided to engage with Burmese leaders to promote democracy there, while still maintaining its program of sanctions.
“Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in previewing the conclusions of the review at the United Nations. “Going forward, we will be employing both of those tools.”
High level talks between our 2 governments may be held as the new approach moves forward, but there will be no softening of longstanding goals of democratic reforms. The U.S. will continue to press for a Burmese government that responds to the needs of its people, the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and serious dialogue by government leaders with their political opponents and minority ethnic groups.
It is well understood, however, that change takes time and no dramatic or immediate results are likely forthcoming. The Burmese military has been in power since 1962 and its leaders have much at stake in maintaining the status quo. But by tailoring an approach aimed at opening the country to new ideas and new thinking, rather than seeking continued isolation, the chance of success will grow over time.