Kerry Rules Out Return to Myanmar Sanctions by the US

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein on Saturday. Reuters


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Myanmar needs to cement democratic reforms, but stressed continued support of its government and rejected calls for harsher policy against the country.

Mr. Kerry’s remarks come amid criticism in Congress that Myanmar’s government is backsliding on sectarian violence, press freedom and allowing democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to compete for the presidency in next year’s election.

Mr. Kerry reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the reform process led by the civilian government, mostly former generals who took over in 2011 from a military regime that had ruled Myanmar for nearly half a century. He also implied, in a response to press questions, that there will be no new conditions for support or a return to the economic sanctions imposed to drive out the former military rulers.

“This is hard work,” Mr. Kerry told a news conference at the conclusion of a diplomatic forum organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “But you don’t just achieve results by the consequence of looking at somebody and ordering them to do it, or telling them to do it, or else.”

Mr. Kerry described bilateral meetings with President Thein Sein, held on the sidelines of the meeting, as candid and stressing friendship between the countries. He also met Shwe Mann, the parliament speaker and a likely presidential contender who leads a party aligned with the former military establishment. Mr. Kerry later traveled to Yangon to visit Ms. Suu Kyi.

In 2012, Washington started lifting economic sanctions. But sectarian violence between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority, uncertainty over changing the constitution—which still bars Ms. Suu Kyi from assuming the presidency after elections next year and guarantees the military a political role—and an apparent rollback of media freedoms have led to fears that the reform process is stalling.

In July, four journalists and the chief executive of a newspaper were sentenced to a decade in prison over a report about an alleged chemical weapons factory.

In recent weeks, 72 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, urged the Obama administration to rethink its Myanmar policy and avoid further concessions unless the government makes further progress on these issues. Some lawmakers have called for reimposing sanctions, and have accused Mr. Obama of being unduly optimistic on Myanmar’s progress.

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