Webb Calls for Speedy End to Sanctions

By Charlie Campbell 12 April 2012

US Senator Jim Webb paid tribute to the democratic reform process underway in Burma and said that trade sanctions should be lifted “as quickly as possible.”

The Virginia State politician told journalists during a Rangoon press conference on Wednesday that he met with members of both Burma’s Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament as well as leaders of political parties and prominent figures within the Burmese media.

“We would like to see a time when the United States and [Burma] have full economic relations and diplomatic relations,” he said. “I personally believe that we should proceed as quicker pace as possible as long as we can also continue to have positive signs as we have seen over the past nine months.”

“We’ve driven through the countryside and helped to observe negotiations between government officials and leaders of the Karen ethnic group. We were able to have a drive through the city yesterday and visit the market and Shwedagon Pagoda.”

And the senior Democrat praised the recent liberalization steps which have occurred in Burma including the election of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to Parliament on April 1.

“In my view what we are seeing in the country is a profound moment in its history,” said the 66-year-old. “I’m very proud to have been able to visit [Burma] and to speak to your leaders on the heels of such a monumental election.”

“It’s been amazing to see over the last nine months the genuine efforts that have taken place to resolve the political and ethnic divisions of the past. I think the Burmese people of all backgrounds want to see the country move forward to its rightful place in the community of nations.”

The former Secretary of the Navy heaped praise of Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein in particular as the two individuals who have done the most to push forward with reform.

“They joined together in their resolve to set aside their differences for the good of this society,” he said. “The Burmese people have now been waiting for 50 years to enter as full partners in the international community.”

The issue of trade sanctions dominated questions from journalists and Webb indicated that it was just a matter of time before they would be lifted.

“It is my intention when I return to Washington to engage in discussions with other members of Congress and with the leaders of our administration so we can find the right way to look at changes in policy that will reward the positive actions that the current government has taken and also include incentives for future change,” he said.

And the Senator played down concerns about the Burmese military’s continued prominent political role by highlighting the positive changes that have occurred in the country since his last visit in 2009.

Webb met with former junta leader Sen-Gen Than Shwe at the time to negotiate the release of imprisoned American John Yettaw who was detained after swimming across to Suu Kyi’s lakeside home while the Nobel Laureate was under house arrest.

“The changes that have taken place in the last year I believe are very strong positive signals that this society, it’s governmental systems and its economy is now positioned to grow in a profoundly different way,” he said. “So I am hopeful that we shall continue to see an evolution in the democratic systems of this country as well as the relationship with the United States.”

And Webb, who has also written six novels aside from his political work, said that the future was undoubtedly bright for Burma.

“My belief is that economic sanctions can have a negative impact on the growth of a country and its interaction with the rest of the international community,” he said. “The benefits for the Burmese people will be profound. You are going to see more economic investment from other countries and the United States.

“I believe that the United States should participate as much as we can in the growth of this country. [Burma] has an enormous future … the strength of the culture, the geographic positioning, the resources that are available with the right formula could make this country very successful in a democratic system.”