Clinton Invites Burmese Foreign Minister to Washington

By Lalit K Jha 6 April 2012

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin for bilateral talks in Washington, claims a senior White House official.

The move comes in the wake of Sunday’s landmark by-elections which saw pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party gain 43 seats in the Burmese Parliament.

The US official added that more high profile visits from key Burma government figures were expected in the near future. “The Secretary [of State] has invited the [Burmese] foreign minister to visit. We [also] expect the minister of health to be visiting the Washington area in the near future.”

“Our intention here is to assertively engage and invite our key interlocutors, particularly those who have been supportive of reform, to the United States. So that’s really the direction that we’re seeking today,” the official told reporters during a conference call.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the senior administration insider said that, although the official travel ban on Naypyidaw bigwigs had not been lifted, in the coming months they hope to have a series of high profile visitors from Burma to continue dialogue between the two countries.

“There is no travel ban per se. There is no list. There is a travel ban, but there is no list. We have, as a general practice, prohibited and discouraged [travel] until very recently. I think as you know, [the State Department] hosted the foreign minister this fall when he came to Washington, and this is a part of a process where not only will we change that approach, we will encourage visitors, we will be inviting senior officials,” he said.

But facilitating travel, another official said, is a little bit more complicated. “The United States does not have one travel ban. Through a variety of sanctions, Burma has a number of interlocking and overlapping sanctions—but through a variety of sanctions, including an executive proclamation and what is called the 2008 JADE Act, we currently restrict the travel of certain Burmese persons to the United States, such as leaders of the military, those involved in repression of human rights and cabinet ministers and vice ministers,” the official said

“Now we are going to begin the process of using our travel sanctions to facilitate travel to the US, specifically for select reform-minded authorities who are constructively engaging with the United States and other members of the international community,” he added.

“We think easing these restrictions in a targeted manner will promote much greater dialogue, more confidence, and hopefully will allow us to gain greater confidence on some of our core concerns.”

This important step comes since Clinton announced an easing of travel and economic sanctions against Burma on Wednesday.

“I think it’s time, as the reform effort takes hold, for us to be able to invite senior and key players to Washington,” the official said. “You will see some invitations in the coming days that we look forward to reciprocating some of the hospitality that we have received on our visits there.”

Meanwhile, it appears that the White House has started using the term “Myanmar” instead of “Burma” in private conversation with Burmese officials, but insiders insist that there has been no change in their official position yet.

“The name Myanmar has been used historically, and in fact, Burma is the bastardization—it is what some of the British original settlers thought they heard when the people they interacted first used the term Myanmar,” a US official said.

“Even members of the NLD and others, when they write their country out in a letter, they use the word ‘Myanmar.’  However, it is the case that we—official practice, and you will have seen it today when Secretary Clinton spoke—is to continue to use the term ‘Burma,’” the official said.

Besides the US, the United Kingdom is currently the only other government in the world which officially uses the term “Burma.”