Following a bloody military coup in 1988, the nation of Myanmar has been largely isolated from the West. Now, for the first time in more than 20 years, signs are emerging that the U.S. may engage in new diplomatic talks with the country.
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And finally tonight, the U.S. changes course on dealing with an Asian dictatorship. Margaret Warner has that story.
The U.S. has been estranged from Myanmar since 1988, when the military unleashed bloody reprisals against pro-democracy demonstrators and staged a coup. Thousands were reported killed.
Since then, the nation also known as Burma has slid deeper into repression and isolation from the West. But at the U.N. last week, after a months-long review, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled the Obama administration was considering a shift in policy.
We believe that sanctions remain important as part of our policy, but by themselves, they have not produced the results that had been hoped for on behalf of the people of Burma. Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice, in our opinion. So going forward, we will be employing both of those tools, pursuing our same goals.
On Monday, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell made it official.
For the first time in memory, the Burmese leadership has shown an interest in engaging with the United States, and we intend to explore that interest.
Yet it remains unclear just how far Myanmar's rulers — a reclusive group of generals — are willing to go. As recently as 2007, they carried out a violent new crackdown, as protesting Buddhist monks were beaten in the streets.
The leading opposition figure, Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest. U.S. and European sanctions haven't hindered Myanmar's bustling trade in energy and raw materials with neighbors like China, India and Thailand.
This summer, the U.S. tracked this North Korean ship suspected of carrying banned weapons cargo to Burma, until it turned back. And though video filmed surreptitiously during last year's cyclone showed desperate poverty and despair, it took immense international pressure to get the regime to let humanitarian aid into the country.
The administration says it will boost humanitarian aid but retain sanctions for now while talking to the regime. But not surprisingly, even this limited opening is stirring some concern.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, co-author of the U.S. sanctions bill against Myanmar, reacted skeptically today.