Hillary Clinton offers small incentives for Burma’s reforms

Posted on: December 1, 2011

Burmese President Thein Sein, right, and his wife, Khin Khin Win, left, talk with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton between meetings at the President’s Office in Naypyidaw, Burma, on Thursday. Dec 1 2011

The highest-ranking U.S. official to set foot in Burma’s presidential palace, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday brought a message of praise to Burma’s president for his nascent gestures of reform even as she warned him that significantly more progress was needed for change to take root.

The table may be set for “a new chapter in our shared history,” Clinton said at a news conference shortly after the meeting, adding that “while the measures already taken may be unprecedented and welcomed, they are just a beginning.”

For weeks leading up to Clinton’s visit, the Obama administration had emphasized cautious optimism in dealing with authoritarian and reclusive leaders of Burma — a country with a long history of repression and strife that has seen promises of progress dissipate before, and in some case, devolve into brutal and lethal crackdowns.

Seeking to allay such doubts, Burma’s President Thein Sein spent much of their meeting giving a detailed 45-minute presentation to Clinton about further change, according to U.S. officials. His plan for reforming areas of his government long criticized by the U.S. and others included: the gradual release of political prisoners, a cease-fire in the war between Burma’s military and ethnic minorities, political reform, media freedom and adopting international agreements on nuclear programs to allay suspicions about Burma-North Korea weapons trades.

Clinton said she responded by telling him that the United States will ”match action with action” — greater aid, economic rewards and diplomatic prestige in return for bolder reforms.

Thein Sein and others in his government have pushed repeatedly for Washington to lift economic sanctions against Burma — viewed as the ultimate prize for their overtures to the West.

In their meeting Thursday, Clinton offered the Burmese significantly smaller incentives in hopes of nudging them forward without giving up too much too fast. She discussed U.S. support for loosening restrictions on health and microfinancing programs by the United Nations and offered U.S. support for exploring other international aid.

read more at Washingtonpost

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