Washington: Launching a new chapter in its ties with Myanmar, the US has announced relaxing investment restrictions to support democratic and economic reforms there and named its first ambassador to the Southeast Asian country in 22 years.
The Obama administration announced the move yesterday which received mixed reactions from the US lawmakers and many human rights bodies, prompting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ask American businesses to invest in Burma responsibly and be an agent of positive change.
"We say to American business, invest in Burma and do it responsibly; be an agent of positive change and be a good corporate citizen; let`s all work together to create jobs, opportunity, and support reform," Hillary said at a joint media appearance with the visiting Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.
"I am announcing new steps to permit American investment in the country and export of US financial services. These are the most significant adjustments to our previous policy that have been taken to date," Hillary said after her nearly 40 minutes meeting with Lwin.
The US will issue a general licence that will enable American businesses to invest across the economy, allow citizens access to international credit markets and dollar-based transactions, she said.
Hillary argued these are important steps that will help bring the country into the global economy, spur broad-based economic development and support the ongoing reforms.
"We are doing what others have done, ie, the European Union, the United Kingdom. We are suspending sanctions. We believe it is the appropriate step for us 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," she said.
"We expect our businesses to create a grievance process that will be accessible to local communities; to demonstrate appropriate treatment of employees, respect for the environment; to be a good corporate citizen; and to promote equitable, sustainable development that will benefit the people," she added.
The US also announced to nominate senior American diplomat Derek J Mitchell as its new Ambassador to Myanmar.
In his remarks, Maung Lwin appreciated the steps being taken by the US towards normalisation of relationship including easing of sanctions and appointment of new Ambassador after more than two decades.
Lwin said the Burmese Ambassador to the United Nations, Than Shwe, will be the Burmese Ambassador to the US.
Later, a senior administration official told reporters the easing of sanctions on American investment in Burma is a substantial refinement and recalibration of US approach to Burma policy. Well aware of the concerns being expressed by some US lawmakers and rights bodies, the official said the US will continue to listen to voices, particularly inside the country, but also in NGO community, in Congress, with whom US has had a very deep and productive partnership on this.
Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Obama Administration is acting prematurely in easing sanctions on Burma.
"While small steps have been taken in the direction of democracy, serious questions remain about Burma`s journey towards democracy, as hundreds of political prisoners remain jailed and repression still exists," she said.
However, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry termed it as a significant moment.
"It`s a logical step forward given the concrete steps Burma has taken towards a more open, democratic and responsive government. There`s a resulting fundamentally bipartisan shift in how Congress views the country," he argued.
"While there are still serious human rights and non-proliferation concerns, this progress warrants a temporary suspension of all US sanctions, with the exception of the arms embargo. Coupled with new restrictions against those companies and individuals that fail to respect human rights and the rule of law, this suspension is the right approach," he said.
Kerry noted that the outright removal of sanctions should be handled in a thoughtful, step-by-step process that is contingent upon continued progress.
Two powerful Republican Senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell welcomed the Obama Administration`s decision on a focused suspension of certain US sanctions on Burma, as well as the nomination of Mitchell to serve as US ambassador to Burma.
"It is important to note that today`s announcement is not a lifting of sanctions. It is a conditional suspension. The legislative architecture of US sanctions on Burma should remain in place, even as the Administration waives the application of certain sanctions at this time.