Burma Has Abandoned Nuclear Ambitions: Minister

By The Associated Press 4 June 2012

SINGAPORE—Burma’s Defense Minister Hla Min says his country has given up any ambition to develop a nuclear power program.

Hla Min told an Asian security summit Saturday in Singapore that Burma has stopped “all activities on nuclear issues” since it moved away from decades of military rule last year.

The assurance is the latest step in an international charm offensive by the new civilian government.

Hla Min said at the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue that Burma previously studied nuclear power “as an academic subject” but never to develop weapons.

Defectors in the past have said Burma was secretly seeking to develop atomic weapons.

The former military regime denied that and also said that a project to develop a 10-megawatt nuclear power plant had been stalled.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is open to improving military ties with Burma if the country continues to enact political and human rights reforms, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta told Asian leaders at the conference.

His comments at the conference in Singapore reflected new efforts by the Obama administration to ease penalties against the Asian nation as it moves to put in place democratic reforms.

Assuming Burma is able to make such changes and continue efforts to open up its political system, the Pentagon would be willing to have discussions about how the countries can improve their military relationship, Panetta said.

“In dealing with the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, this is not a Cold War situation where the U.S. simply charges in, builds permanent bases and tries to establish a power base in this region,” Panetta said, responding to a question after his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a prominent defense conference.

In the world today, he said, the U.S. must engage with other countries to help them build their own military capabilities so they can defend themselves.

“We will encourage that kind of relationship with every nation that we deal with in this region, including Burma,” Panetta said.

A senior defense official traveling with Panetta said the secretary expects the government of Burma to continue on the path of reform and promotion of human rights, and once it shows progress then stronger military ties could be possible. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to reflect internal discussions.

Burma is emerging from decades of authoritarian rule and diplomatic isolation. Last month, President Barack Obama eased an investment ban on Burma, and named the first U.S ambassador to the country in 22 years.

Human rights activists, however, criticized the move, saying it was too soon to reward the country since hundreds of political prisoners are still being held there.

Panetta’s speech was designed to promote America’s new effort to focus more attention on the Asia-Pacific region, both militarily and diplomatically.