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Myanmar - US

Obama promises new phase in relations with Myanmar

Reuters/Damir Sagolj

US President Barack Obama offered Myanmar a "new phase" in relations in return for tangible reform, in a message delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday during historic talks in the capital Naypyidaw.

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Washington wants to "explore how the United States can support and advance
your efforts to transition to democracy and promote protection of human
rights", Obama wrote.

Clinton said Thursday that Washington is not yet ready to end sanctions against Myanmar but is ready to talk if recent reforms by the military-dominated regime continue.

"We're not at the point yet that we can consider lifting sanctions that we have in place due to our ongoing concerns over policies that have to be reversed," she said.

Clinton said that the US hopes to start talks on upgrading diplomatic relations and boosting aid.

After her visit, the US is to discuss joint searches for US soldiers killed during World War II and has invited Myanmar to become an observer of the Lower Mekong Initiative, a US programme aimed at health and the environment in south-east Asia.

Obama's 'Pacific century' a challenge to China

Clinton also said that restrictions on microfinance and UN-backed health programmes may be eased and joint anti-narcotics missions may be resumed.

"These are incremental steps and we are prepared to go further if reforms maintain momentum. In that spirit, we are discussing what it will take to upgrade diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors," she declared.

The US has been represented in Myanmar by a lower-ranking diplomat, a chargé d'affaires, since its military rulers refused to accept the results of 1990 elections won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Clinton also accused the Myanmar government of having “illicit ties” to North Korea and called on it to end them.

After reports that Pyongyang is helping Naypyidaw build a military arsenal, including possible nuclear weapons, Clinton’s aides said that the US’s main concern is missile technology.

President Thein Sein gave "strong assurances" that Myanmar would abide by the UN resolutions, which ban weapons exports from North Korea, Clinton reported.

He also said that Myanmar is “strongly considering” signing international agreements that would allow inspections of suspected nuclear sites.

Clinton’s visit comes after the Myanmar has introduced a number of reforms.

Suu Kyi and her allies have welcomed them, while calling for more changes, as have neighbouring countries.

It also follows President Barack Obama’s speech announcing “America’s Pacific century”, which lead some rights campaigners to suspect that it is linked to a strategy of containing China and spreading influence in India and the rest of Asia.

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