Senator Jim Webb, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, today issued the following statement regarding the first official visit by Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and the Administration's decision to ease economic sanctions on Burma (Myanmar):
"I was pleased to host Foreign Minister Lwin in my office this morning and to continue the dialogue with him and his delegation regarding the important changes that have taken place in the relations between our two countries since my first official visit to Burma in 2009. I support the Administration's decision to exchange ambassadors and to ease sanctions on financial transactions and investments in Burma. However, I continue to believe that U.S. policy must be more proactive. The President has wider powers with respect to economic sanctions, and he should use them to lift all economic sanctions. We lifted such sanctions against China 41 years ago, and the European Union has already done so in Burma with the full support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi."
Background on Senator Webb's Involvement in Burma
In 2009, Senator Webb was the first American leader to visit Burma in more than 10 years, and remains the only American official ever to meet with General Than Shwe, the former leader of the country's former military regime. During that visit, Senator Webb also met with Thein Sein, who now serves as President, and Aung San Suu Kyi, who at that time remained under house arrest. Following that trip, Senator Webb chaired a Foreign Relations Committee oversight hearing on US - Burma relations at which he called for increased confidence-building gestures in order to pursue better relations between the two governments. He continued to meet frequently on this topic with political leaders from that country, as well as other foreign policy leaders from the international community, and pro-democracy organizations in the expatriate community.
Senator Webb's third visit to Burma occurred at a pivotal moment following that country's historic parliamentary by-elections April 1, 2012. During this important return visit, Senator Webb again met with President Thein Sein, the leaders of both Houses of Parliament, government ministers, business leaders, political party representatives, journalists, and the owners of major news media. He also traveled to the Bago Region Government Office to observe and discuss peace negotiations with representatives from Burma's central government and the Karen National Union. He then chaired a subcommittee hearing on April 26 with senior officials from the Departments of Treasury and State and USAID, as well as outside experts, to provide a clearer understanding of the range of sanctions in place and the obstacles to removing them.
In a joint letter on May 4, 2012, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Webb, joined by subcommittee ranking member James Inhofe, first called for the administration to lift all sanctions immediately. The Senators warned against lifting sanctions sector by sector, noting that retaining sanctions on individual industries such as petroleum would be "a strategic mistake."