By LALIT K JHA
WASHINGTON – Seventeen US lawmakers have expressed deep concern over reports that the Obama administration is considering lifting economic sanctions against Burma and urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to appoint a special coordinator for Burma.
“We are greatly concerned about reports that during a recent visit by a senior US diplomat to Burma, this official suggested the US government was considering lifting sanctions against the military regime,” the congressmen said in a letter addressed to Clinton on Friday.
While welcoming the decision to review the Burma policy, the letter noted that the US Congress has set various conditions for lifting of the sanctions involving the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi; a genuine tripartite dialogue between the military regime, Suu Kyi and ethnic nationalities; and a cessation of attacks against civilians.
The congressmen also reminded Clinton that as a US senator Barack Obama had supported the cornerstone of the US policy towards Burma. These are manifested in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act and the Tom Lantos Block Burmese jade Act, which was passed last year by Congress and signed into law.
“We urge you to join us in standing firmly alongside Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s democracy movement by continuing to support and implement provisions in the Tom Lantos Block Burmese Jade Act,” the letter said. “To do this, we respectfully request you appoint a US special coordinator for Burma as legally mandated by this legislation,” the Congressmen wrote.
Meanwhile, the State Department on Friday said there has been no firm proposal with regard to something on the lines of a six-party talk process like that used in negotiations with North Korea.
“There hasn’t been anything from our side in terms of a formal proposal,” State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood told reporters when asked about recent media reports of multi-party talks.
Wood said the United States remains concerned about the situation in Burma with regard to human rights and political prisoners.
“We’re going to have discussions with our partners in the region and elsewhere to try to see what kind of a mechanism we can set up to help advance our policy interests and goals in Burma. But we have not agreed on any kind of a mechanism at this point,” Wood said.
At a meeting early this week organized by the National Bureau of Asian Research, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said the US is prepared to tackle the Burma issue by joining six-party talks along the lines of those held to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program.
Signing the letter dated April 3 were congressmen Peter T King, Joseph Crowley, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rush D Holt, Joseph R Pitts, Barney Frank, Dana Rohrabacher, Peter A DeFaztio, Mark E Souder, John W Olver, Mark Steven Kirk, Madeleine Z Bordallo, Donald A Manzullo, Carolyn B Maloney, Thaddeus McCotter, Steven Cohen and Mike Pence.
In a related development, US Sen Jim Webb on said he Friday favored a new approach of engagement towards Burma with the aim of lifting the sanctions. Webb made his remarks while attending a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.