Clinton, Burmese FM Meet in Washington

Posted May 17th, 2012 at 9:10 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Burma's top diplomat are meeting in Washington, amid signs the Obama administration may be preparing to suspend long-standing economic sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation.

The chairman of a key Senate East Asian subcommittee, Jim Webb, called the visit by Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin an “appropriate time” for Washington ease sanctions. In a statement Tuesday, Webb said it is time for President Barack Obama to act.

In Rangoon this week, opposition leader and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi lent cautious support to U.S. Congressional efforts to ease a host of trade and travel restrictions slapped on the military junta that ruled Burma for nearly five decades. Under international pressure, the military regime relinquished power and permitted multi-party elections last year.

The new, nominally-civilian government has released hundreds of political prisoners and cleared the way for Aung San Suu Kyi's successful campaign for parliament.

The Obama administration said in January it would move to normalize diplomatic relations with Burma, and announced last month it would ease a 15-year ban on American investment in the country.

Current sanctions also include restrictions on financial services to former regime leaders and their families, as well as visa bans to key junta personnel.

Last month, the European Union suspended a wide range of sanctions against Burma for 12 months. Officials said the time-specific easement was meant to encourage the new government to pursue additional democratic reforms, and to penalize the government if it fails in the next year to end a series of military conflicts with several key ethnic minority groupings in eastern and upper Burma.