Senator Jim Webb, whose historic trip to Burma in 2009 set the stage for a new direction in U.S. policy toward that country, today called the first official visit by the Burmese Foreign Minister to the United States an "appropriate time" for the Obama Administration to lift economic sanctions on that country. Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin is coming to Washington, DC, this week to meet with senior leaders, including Senator Webb.
"The President has the power to lift economic sanctions," said Senator Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee. "It is time for him to act."
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. Senator Webb made his third visit to Burma in April, shortly after that country's national parliamentary by-elections. He then chaired a subcommittee hearing on April 26, 2012--the second hearing he has chaired on U.S.-Burma relations--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 response to questions raised at the April 26, 2012, subcommittee hearing, Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Adam Szubin testified that the main categories of sanctions imposed by statute or executive order can be lifted by the President via licenses, rescission of executive orders, or issuance of waivers on national security. He noted that executive decisions to remove sanctions can still target and blacklist the assets or activities of specific "bad actors" from the previous military junta so that they will not benefit from economic relations with the United States. "The U.S. trade embargo with China was lifted 41 years ago, on the gamble that political reforms would follow economic change," noted Senator Webb. "Burma has taken the unusual step of making political advances ahead of economic change. It is important to note that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, once a political prisoner, is now an elected official, and publicly announced her support for the European Union's decision to suspend sanctions in response to democratic reforms in the country. The process of reform in Burma is still far from complete, but the positive steps that have been taken should be met with a positive response from our own government."
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."
Following his 2009 trip to Burma noted above, 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 has met 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 most recent 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.
Senator Webb's May 4 letter to Secretary Clinton is available here: http://webb.senate.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/2012-05-04.cfm.