Saturday, November 15, 2008

New approach in US Burma policy?

Dr. Sein Myint
Mizzima News
Saturday, 15 November 2008 17:44

The nomination by outgoing U.S. President George Bush of Michael Green as Special Envoy and Policy Chief for Burma will likely be swiftly confirmed without hindrance by Congress. The appointment is a long overdue action that should have taken place years ago after the bloody Depayin incident, not to mention following last year's 2007 Saffron Revolution.

However, instead of focusing attention on the need for the U.S. to appoint a Special Envoy to Burma, many Burma campaigners and lobbyists based in Washington, and supported by the NCGUB, lobbied and pushed the US State Department to include Burma on this year's UN Security Council agenda. But, as predicted by many UN experts, this strategy failed.

So, what could Dr. Green achieve regarding Burma before his current boss leaves office on January 20, 2009, and what will happen to his role and position after this deadline?

President elect Obama is likely to maintain a similar stance on Burma to that of his predecessor, taking advice from his senior foreign policy adviser and former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, who happens to be a strong supporter of democracy in Burma and admirer of Aung San Suu Kyi.

In order, though, to map alternative policies and strategies on Burma , it may be prudent for Dr. Green to seek a wide range of opinions and views, from various leaders, individuals and representatives of the exile Burmese communities residing in the US and other countries, and not just from those lobbyists who are waiting at his doorsteps.

And it would also be prudent for him to directly meet with Burma's military leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders, taking the opportunity to make a personal assessment of the situation inside the country, and making recommendations to the new US President and Congress concerning any alternative policies that could bring positive change to Burma.

Of course, it would be scurrilous for him to advocate the normalization of relations between the US and Burma, especially after the recent spate of harsh prison terms handed down to democracy and human rights activists inside the country.

One of the key roles of the US Special Envoy for Burma will be to find out the reasons why pressure and selective economic sanctions currently imposed on the Burmese junta have so far failed to produce any positive results, including failing to persuade the recalcitrant SPDC leaders to enter into a dialogue with the democratic opposition.

His role could be similar to that of the Special Envoy for North Korea, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the US's chief negotiator at the 'six party' talks on North Korea. However, in the case of Burma, it is uncertain what kind of format for talks could be achieved, considering the varied group of countries and organizations that would likely need to be included. Certainly, any proposed 'multi-party' effort should include the UN, US, EU, China, India, ASEAN, Japan, Australia and, of course, Burma's military government.

But, most importantly in this scenario, would be the acceptance by Burma's military leaders for the holding of talks on moving the country toward democracy, talks inclusive of all domestic stakeholders.

Therefore, it is vital for the US Special Envoy to find out what pressure buttons would either shock the junta to jump overboard, or to coax the junta to come on-board with the international community, in order for the new US administration to take serious initiatives toward resolving Burma's decades old problems, rather than the current course of political rhetoric and time wasting diplomatic charades.

Dr. Sein Myint serves as the director of Policy Development of Justice for Human Rights in Burma, located in Maryland, USA. He is an Honorary Member of Amnesty International Chapter 22 in Washington D.C.

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