WASHINGTON D.C.—The Obama administration said on Wednesday that it would soon nominate an ambassador to Burma and ease some travel and financial restrictions on the military-dominated Southeast Asian nation following historic by-elections that saw opposition gains in Parliament.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the steps at the State Department, calling Sunday’s poll a “dramatic demonstration of popular will that brings a new generation of reformers into government” that deserved recognition.
“This is an important step in the country’s transformation,” she said, congratulating both government reformers and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and newly elected Member of Parliament Aung San Suu Kyi.
“While there is much to be done, and significant tests lie ahead, we applaud the president and his colleagues for their leadership and courage and we congratulate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on her election to Parliament,” Clinton said, using her honorary title.
In addition to nominating an ambassador, the first the US will have in the nation since it downgraded relations in 1988, Clinton said Washington would allow select senior Burma officials to visit the United States and ease restrictions on the export of financial services. The US also will open an office of the US Agency for International Development in Burma.
At the same time, Clinton said that sanctions against people and institutions in Burma that try to thwart democratic progress would remain in place. The US has a wide array of both presidential and legislative sanctions against Burma, many of which were imposed after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won elections in 1990 that were annulled by the junta.
She added that the US would continue to press hard for further reform, including a verifiable cut-off in military ties between Burma and North Korea, the release of all political prisoners and an end to decades of fighting with ethnic minorities.
US officials said there was no specific timeline for implementing the changes that Clinton announced, although the nomination of an ambassador could come fairly soon and several senior Burma officials have already been invited to visit the United States.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, had been under military rule for half-a-century and subject for decades to tough US sanctions that prohibited most Americans from any commercial transactions there.
When he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama authorized a full review of US policy toward Burma that led to the offer of significant incentives in exchange for reforms. Last year, the military ceded power to a nominally-civilian government it backed and pledged to move toward democracy.
Those vows led to Clinton visiting Burma in December, the first secretary of state to do so in more than 50 years. At the time, she promised that positive actions from the government would be met with positive actions from the US.
Clinton, who met with Suu Kyi on that December trip, cautioned on Wednesday that “the future is neither clear nor certain” but pledged that additional progress would be rewarded.
Earlier on Wednesday, Southeast Asian leaders called for Western countries to lift immediately punitive sanctions imposed on Burma now that the once-pariah nation is moving on reforms.