YANGON, Myanmar — The U.S. wants better relations with military-ruled Myanmar if it makes concrete steps toward democracy, a senior American diplomat said today after holding the highest-level talks with the junta and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 14 years.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said he explained Washington’s new policy, which reverses the Bush administration’s isolation of Myanmar, also known as Burma, in favor of dialogue with a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962.
The goals of the new policy are “strong support for human rights, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners and the promotion of democratic reform,” Campbell said in a statement at the end of his two-day visit.
Campbell and his deputy, Scot Marciel, are the highest-level Americans to visit Myanmar since 1995.
Earlier today, Campbell, the top State Department official for East Asia, greeted Suu Kyi with a handshake after she was driven to his lakeside hotel in Yangon where they met privately for two hours, U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Mei said. The content of the talks was not immediately known.
Suu Kyi, 64, has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years. Dressed in a pink traditional Burmese jacket, she was upbeat as she emerged from the hotel.
“Hello to you all,” she said to photographers before getting into the car that whisked her back to her tightly guarded home.
Myanmar’s junta has praised the new U.S. policy, but shown no sign it intends to release Suu Kyi or initiate democratic and electoral reforms demanded by Suu Kyi’s party ahead of elections planned for next year.
But the military government has made some gestures, such as loosening the terms of Suu Kyi’s house arrest and allowing her more meeting with visitors such as Campbell, in hopes that the U.S. will ease political and economic sanctions.
Campbell said he told junta officials that the U.S. “is prepared to take steps to improve the relationship but that process must be based on reciprocal and concrete efforts by the Burmese government.”
Campbell was continuing talks he began in September in New York with senior Myanmar officials, which were the first such high-level contact in nearly a decade. He met Wednesday morning with Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, Mei said.
Campbell said he emphasized that Myanmar “should abide by U.N. resolutions with regards to proliferation.” He did not elaborate, but was apparently referring to arms purchases from North Korea. There is also some speculation, though no evidence has been made public, that Myanmar is seeking to develop nuclear weapons with North Korea’s help.
State television, which on Tuesday ignored the Americans’ visit, broadcast footage of Campbell’s meetings with both Suu Kyi and the prime minister.
Suu Kyi was recently sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest for briefly sheltering an uninvited American, in a trial that drew global condemnation. The sentence means she will not be able to participate in next year’s elections, which will be the first in two decades.
U.S. sanctions, first imposed more than a decade ago, failed to force the generals to respect human rights, release jailed political activists and make democratic reforms. The Obama administration decided recently to step up engagement as a way of promoting reforms.
Washington has said it will maintain the sanctions until talks with Myanmar’s generals result in change.
Campbell is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Myanmar since a September 1995 trip by then-U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright.