U.S. Senator to Meet With Head of Junta
The Wall Street Journal
U.S. Senator to Meet With Head of Junta
AUGUST 14, 2009, 11:18 A.M. ET
By JAY SOLOMON
Democratic senator Jim Webb arrived in Myanmar Friday where he is expected to meet the head of country’s military junta, Than Shwe, as well as other senior officials over the weekend.
Mr. Webb’s trip to Myanmar’s remote capital, Naypyitaw, was cleared by President Barack Obama’s White House, which has defined its foreign policy by reaching out to American adversaries.
The White House and State Department both emphasized Friday that Mr. Webb wasn’t carrying any specific message from the Obama administration for Myanmar’s junta. But a National Security Council spokesman stressed the importance of conveying the tenets of U.S. policy to the country’s isolated rulers. Myanmar was formerly called Burma.
“It is important for the Burmese leadership to hear of the strong views of American political leaders about the path it should take toward democracy, good governance, and genuine national reconciliation,” Michael Hammer, the NSC spokesman said. “Senator Webb can convey American views effectively on such subjects.”
Mr. Webb, a veteran of the Vietnam War, chairs a Senate subcommittee overseeing U.S. policy towards East Asia. He is conducting a two-week trip to the region and arrived in Myanmar after a visit to Laos. He is the first member of Congress to visit Myanmar in more than a decade.
Mr. Webb’s trip follows Myanmar’s sentencing this week of Nobel Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, to three more years of house arrest due an unsolicited visit by an American this May. The American, John Yettaw, swam across a lake to reach Ms. Suu Kyi’s Yangon villa uninvited, where he spent two days.
Myanmar authorities ruled Mr. Yettaw’s visit violated the terms of Ms. Suu Kyi’s detention. Mr. Yettaw was sentenced to seven years hard labor.
Mr. Webb’s trip has fueled speculation that he will seek the release of Mr. Yettaw. A spokesman for Mr. Webb couldn’t be reached Friday morning. A State Department official, meanwhile, said Sen. Webb “had his own agenda,” but added: “We would welcome the release of John Yettaw and Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Last week, former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea to secure the release of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been sentenced to 12 years hard labor for illegally entering the Northeast Asian country.
The White House approved Mr. Clinton’s trip, but stressed it was a humanitarian mission that stemmed from a request made by the two imprisoned Americans.
Mr. Hammer of the NSC added: “The recent conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi, which was a serious step backward, indicates the magnitude of the challenge the international community faces in persuading the Burmese leadership to embark on that path” towards democracy and good governance.
Write to Jay Solomon at email@example.com
U.S. senator in Myanmar, may meet junta leader
YANGON (Reuters) – A U.S. senator arrived in Myanmar on Friday and a government source said he would meet the leader of the country’s junta, which was condemned by the United States this week for the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Jim Webb, chairman of a Senate subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs, arrived in Naypyidaw, the Southeast Asian country’s remote new capital, and would meet leader Than Shwe on Saturday, said the source who declined to be named.
Webb is the first member of Congress to travel in an official capacity to Myanmar in more than a decade, and has also been described as the first senior American official ever to meet Than Shwe.
It is unclear what he aims to achieve. He arrives the same week that Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate and a symbol of the movement for democracy in Myanmar, was sentenced to another 18 months’ house arrest for violating a security law.
The U.S. embassy in Myanmar has little knowledge of Webb’s plans and says all arrangements were made by his office in Washington.
According to some reports, he may press for the release of John Yettaw, the American who swam uninvited to Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in May. The authorities said his two-day stay there breached the terms of her house arrest, which led to her trial.
Yettaw himself was sentenced to seven years’ hard labor in a parallel trial on Tuesday on three charges, including immigration offences and “swimming in a non-swimming area.” His health is fragile and he spent several days in hospital this month.
President Barack Obama said the conviction violated universal principles of human rights and called for her release.
In May, Obama extended a ban on U.S. investment in Myanmar first imposed in 1997 because of the authorities’ repression of the opposition. He has also renewed sanctions targeting imports from Myanmar.
Before Suu Kyi’s trial ended, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held out the prospect of better relations with Myanmar but made that conditional on the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.
Webb’s office said on August 6 he would travel to five countries in Southeast Asia on a two-week mission “to explore opportunities to advance U.S. interests in Burma (Myanmar) and the region.”
He is not expected to be allowed to see Suu Kyi in her Yangon home, but the military government has invited members of political parties, including senior members of her National League for Democracy, to Naypyidaw this weekend.
Webb flew to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, from Laos and will also visit Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
He is a former U.S. Navy Secretary and a Vietnam War veteran who speaks Vietnamese.
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Sugita Katyal)
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