The United States said it was premature to ease sanctions on Myanmar and urged the regime to take more concrete steps as it shakes up leadership following controversial elections.
Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said after a trip to consult Southeast Asian nations that the United States was broadly disappointed with Myanmar but committed to maintain dialogue.
“Several Southeast Asian nations have come out saying it’s time to lift sanctions. We have stated very clearly we think that that is obviously premature,” Campbell told reporters.
“We are looking for much more concrete steps from the new government as they form a new government policy on a host of issues,” he said.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, this week convened a military-dominated parliament that the regime sees as a key step in its so-called roadmap to democracy.
But Western nations and the opposition have cried foul, charging that elections last year were rigged to sideline pro-democracy forces and ethnic minorities.
Indonesia, the rotating head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), said last month that the 10-member bloc largely agreed that the United States should lift sanctions on Myanmar.
“Asean leaders again urge, especially after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the elections, that the policy on sanctions against Myanmar be reviewed as they have an impact on development in Myanmar,” Indonesian Foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said.
But Campbell said that the United States stood behind Suu Kyi, the iconic head of Myanmar’s democratic opposition, in her calls for the junta to make clear its intentions.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power. The junta released the Nobel Peace laureate in November after years under house arrest, but only after the elections.
Campbell in 2009 opened dialogue with the junta, part of the effort by President Barack Obama’s administration to reach out to US adversaries.
“We have been disappointed, basically, across the spectrum,” Campbell said, insisting the administration has never tried to “oversell” the fruits of engagement.
“It is also the case, however, that we believe a degree of engagement serves the best interests of the United States and our regional policy,” he said.