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Sens. McConnell and Feinstein Hold News Conference on Economic Sanctions on Burma

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MCCONNELL:

    Well, thank you very much for coming.

    I'm pleased to be here today with my friend and colleague, Senator Feinstein, to talk about the situation in Burma and a bill that we introduced yesterday that we think will begin to help rally the international community into a position of squeezing this regime like it richly deserves.

    You all are all familiar with the history. The military regime there has refused to recognize the outcome of the elections in 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest most of the time since 1990 and, of course, about a week ago today, was involved in an incident which we know that she was injured and has not been seen since. Clearly, this Nobel Peace Prize-winning patriot who's spent so much of her life trying to establish democracy in Burma is in grave danger. And we're no closer to recognition of the election than we have been at any time over the last 13 years.

    I do think that one good thing has come out of this that obviously puts Burma closer to the front page. One of the reasons this military regime has been able to get away with this over the years is, Burma has sort of been out of sight and out of mind to most of the civilized world. That is no longer the case.

    The United States needs to lead in rallying the world around, at the very least, a sanctions regime that works. The bill that Senator Feinstein and I introduced yesterday would require, among other things, that there be an important ban in the United States against Burmese exports coming in. That would eliminate about 25 percent of their exports. Obviously to have 100 percent freeze, we'd need to have cooperation. In addition to that, it would authorize the administration to not issue visas to family members of people who are involved in this military regime.

    I had the opportunity yesterday to talk to Rich Armitage at the State Department, Paul Wolfowitz at Defense and Condi Rice earlier this morning from the plane on the way back from her trip with the president overseas. We're hoping that the administration will support this bill. We expect to get an early decision on their support. The administration will have an early opportunity to weigh-in on this.

    The Thai prime minister, I understand, is to be at the White House next Tuesday.

    The ASEAN regional forum is in Phnom Penh on June 18 and 19. Secretary Powell is going to that meeting. We hope that he will put this issue at the top is his priority list.

    And Mr. Rizali, from the U.N., is scheduled to be in Rangoon tomorrow, and this will be an early opportunity to see whether any outsider will be allowed to actually see Suu Kyi and to assess her physical condition.

    We have an impressive list of co-sponsors, including Senators McCain, Leahy, Specter, Kennedy, Mikulski, Kyl, Daschle, Santorum, Brownback and Lugar. We expect to have more. And hope to be able to pass this bill through the Senate early on.

    With that overview, let me turn to my friend, Diane Feinstein.

FEINSTEIN:

    Thanks, Mitch.

    And it's been a great pleasure for me to work with Senator McConnell on this particular issue.
    I've very pleased to co-sponsor this legislation. I hope it sends a clear and unambiguous message to a despicable military junta that controls that country.

    Aung San Suu Kyi was the elected leader of that country, duly elected. She spent, as Senator McConnell said, most of these past decade and four years in custody. She was released from custody. The junta had said they would work an accommodation; they never did. She began to tour the country, harassed in an unprecedented way and now hurt. And at an undisclosed location, clearly in junta custody.

    Well, United States stands for seeing that elected leaders are able to assume their responsibilities and, in this case, this has been denied. I'm one that doesn't always believe that these sanctions work, but in this case these sanctions are appropriate and they are necessary. And I hope they send a very clear message to this junta that the United States is not going to tolerate this kind of action and activity.

    So I'm very pleased to join with you, Senator. And I hope we can pass this in a very speedy way. And I believe it'll go through the House in a speedy way. And that the president of the United States will, in effect, sign this legislation and begin this sanction.

MCCONNELL:

    Questions for either of us?

QUESTION:

    Senator Feinstein, you said you were, you know, one that puts full faith, I guess, in the sanctions. Why do you think this might work?

FEINSTEIN:

    Well, you know, we have very few tools available to us. Senator McConnell said this is 25 percent of the trade or the exports of Myanmar or Burma. I think in view of the circumstances, which is the way Aung San Suu Kyi has been treated since she was released from custody, this is unacceptable for any country to do this.

    And I have followed this woman. And I am an unabashed fan of her's. And she has shown, I think, a steadfastness of purpose. And she is not a rabble rouser; we all know that. She is a very thoughtful, a reserve person. A very dedicated person. And even when her husband was dying, she couldn't see him. And that's something that most of us, I think, would find unprecedented in terms of human behavior. And the reason she couldn't see him was because this junta wouldn't let her see him.

FEINSTEIN:

    So I think we must do this and we must stand for principles that we believe in. She stands for these principles. And she is being terribly mistreated.

MCCONNELL:

    If I could just follow-on on your question? There is a conspicuous example of where sanctions did work. I know the rap on sanctions is that frequently they don't work, and that's South Africa. South Africa sanctions worked. Why did they work? Because there was broad international cooperation. And what we hope, what Diane and I hope, is that the administration and Congress and the United States will lead in a direction where there is broad international support for sanctions. If you have that, particularly beginning with the ASEAN countries, then it can work. You can absolutely isolate it.

    The other rap on sanctions periodically expressed is that they hurt the people. That will not be the case in Burma. The regime benefits from all of the money made off of exports. It's not shared with the people. So this will not have an adverse impact on regular Burmese citizens.

QUESTION:

    Yes, Senator, if this bill passes, how soon will its provisions go (OFF-MIKE)

MCCONNELL:

    Immediately.

QUESTION:

    You mentioned the administration support. Do you have any reason or any indication from them that they may not support the bill?

MCCONNELL:

    No. I talked to Condi Rice, as I said, this morning. I know they're having a meeting on this subject tomorrow. We expect an early answer from the administration as to whether or not they support it. And I'm optimistic that they will.

QUESTION:

    What's your reading of what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi last Friday?

FEINSTEIN:

    Well, I know what's been reported, that a projectile was thrown at her car, hit her in the shoulder and perhaps in the head. The degree to which she was injured is not known. The fact that she has essentially disappeared causes great concern.

    And I think, if I might speak for a moment for Senator McConnell and for myself? I think this junta ought to make clear what her condition is. They ought to set her free. They ought to give her medical care. And they ought to keep their word and work out when and how a new election can be held. And I think it's very important if Burma is going to be respected in the world that this be done.

MCCONNELL:

    A good opportunity, obviously, would be Rizali's visit tomorrow. The regime ought to take him to where she is so the world can get an appraisal of her condition.

FEINSTEIN:

    Thank you.

QUESTION:

    Senators, if I can ask a quick question about Medicare (OFF-MIKE) big issue coming up for that? Senator Feinstein, Senator Rockefeller says that mood among some liberal Democrats has been very bad and very angry about the agreement between Senator Baucus and Grassley (OFF-MIKE). What's your take on this?

FEINSTEIN:

    My take is that I don't necessarily agree with that. I don't see a mood. I have just asked when I might be able to see the bill, and I believe it's going to be made public on Monday. It's hard for me to get angry or upset before I have an opportunity to see something. And, you know, I can perhaps answer that better in a week.

QUESTION:

    Senator McConnell?

MCCONNELL:

    The perspective from our side of the aisle: I think there's a very different mood in the Senate this year on this subject. Last year, both sides had their proposals and we had cloture votes and we agreed to go out and debate it in the campaign. This year, I think, the vast majority of the members of the Senate, both on the Republican side and the Democratic side, think it's time to quit talking and actually work together to pass something. So I'm optimistic that we will pass a bipartisan Medicare reform/prescription drug bill.

    The leader, as you know, has scheduled the last two weeks of the month for this important debate. And I'm optimistic, I think we're going to get something that's going to pass the Senate with hopefully a significant bipartisan majority.

QUESTION:

    Do you think Senator Kennedy will support it?

MCCONNELL:

    I have no idea. You'll have to ask him.

FEINSTEIN:

    I'm going to move one amendment to it. I've had something that's bothered me ever since I've been here, and that's the fact that procurements in Medicare supplies, wheelchairs, those things are not bid.

FEINSTEIN:

    And the GAO has done a study. And just in the amount studied, which is a very limited amount, said the savings could be $10 billion. And I think the people who have access to Medicare would want to know that it is run on a bid basis. And that if you're bidding for wheelchairs or walkers or anything else, the low bid should prevail. So I feel very strongly about that and hope to have an opportunity on the floor to make that amendment.

QUESTION:

    Just very quickly on taxes, Senator McConnell. Are we going to have an agreement (OFF-MIKE) the tax credit?

MCCONNELL:

    I think there's a pretty great likelihood that we'll have an agreement before the day's out.
    Thank you.

FEINSTEIN:

    I understand the same thing.

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