By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford
Praising Myanmar for "significant progress along the path to democracy" President Barack Obama moved on several fronts Thursday to reward the country for historic changes it has instituted.
Obama announced he is nominating Derek Mitchell as the United States' first ambassador to Myanmar since 1990 and also said he is lifting economic sanctions the Southeast Asian nation, while maintaining U.S. laws on the books as an insurance policy for future progress.
The U.S., he said, will ease its bans on the exportation of financial services and new investment in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.
"Opening up greater economic engagement between our two countries is critical to supporting reformers in government and civil society," he said, "facilitating broad-based economic development, and bringing Burma out of isolation and into the international community."
At the State Department, after a meeting with the foreign minister of Myanmar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that Myanmar's "progress that has occurred in the last year toward democratization and national reconciliation is irreversible...(and) the United States wants to do everything we can to be sure that is the reality."
Clinton cited Myanmar's parliamentary elections, recent steps to bring about the end of conflicts with minority groups and continuing political and economic reform.
"The United States is committed to supporting this reform," she said. "We want to encourage it, we acknowledge it but, more than that, we want to be partners in seeing it continue."
A senior administration official says the new steps will target human rights abusers and other “bad actors” in Burma and there will be a public document that will list those people. “We are looking at actions and behavior,” the official says. “What we want to do is dis-incentivize bad behaviors and incentivize good behaviors.”
The secretary also announced new steps to permit U.S. investment in Myanmar and export of U.S. financial services. The United States will issue a general license that will enable U.S. businesses to invest across the economy, she said, and allow citizens of Myanmar access to international credit markets.
"So today we say to American business: 'Invest in Burma, and do it responsibly. Be an agent of positive change and be a good corporate citizen.'"
The U.S., Clinton said, is doing what other countries, especially in Western Europe, have done: "We are suspending sanctions. We believe that that is the appropriate step to take today. We will be keeping relevant laws on the books as an insurance policy but our goal and our commitment is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities.
President Obama, in his statement, said the U.S. remains concerned about Myanmar's "closed political system, its treatment of minorities and detention of political prisoners, and its relationship with North Korea."
Secretary Clinton said she was encouraged by statements from the government of Myanmar that it will end its military relationship with North Korea. The United States also will continue to press for those who commit serious violations of human rights to be held accountable.
The United States will continue to maintain the arms embargo on Myanmar, Clinton said, because it wants to see reform that would put the armed forces of Myanmar under civilian control.
The sanctions will also be officially maintained and some can be reinstated "if there is backsliding," Clinton said.