U.S. Officials Engage Burma in Major Policy Shift

The United States embarked on a new policy of engagement with Burma on Tuesday, sending two senior diplomats for the highest-level visit in more than a decade.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, and his deputy, Scot Marciel, were scheduled to meet senior Burma junta officials as well as detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday and Wednesday, embassy spokesman Richard Mei said.

The two-day trip is part of a new U.S. policy that reverses the Bush administration's isolation of Burma in favor of direct, high-level talks with a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962.

"Mr. Campbell's visit is the beginning of new U.S engagement policy toward Burma. This is the first step of the engagement but we have to see what comes out of the new engagement policy," said Nyan Win, spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

Campbell will be the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Burma since a September 1995 trip by then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright.

The American diplomats flew Tuesday from Bangkok, in neighboring Thailand, to Burma's administrative capital of Naypyitaw in a U.S. Air Force plane, Mei said.

The embassy spokesman said Campbell will be continuing talks he began in September in New York with senior Burma officials, the first such high-level contact in nearly a decade.

Burma government sources said Campbell was due to meet Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein early Wednesday. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists, said the diplomats would hold talks with several Cabinet ministers and other officials Tuesday.

Nyan Win said Campbell will meet NLD leaders at party headquarters in Yangon after he holds talks with Suu Kyi on Wednesday.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years.

Suu Kyi was recently convicted and sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest for briefly sheltering an uninvited American, in a trial that drew global condemnation. She is one of an estimated 2,100 detained political prisoners.

The United States has traditionally relied heavily on sanctions meant to force Burma's generals to respect human rights, release imprisoned political activists and make democratic reforms.

Washington has said it will maintain its tough political and economic sanctions against the regime until talks with Burma's general's result in change.

Campbell said last month if Burma doesn't address U.S. worries, "we will reserve the option of tightening sanctions on the regime and its supporters as appropriate."