YANGON, Myanmar – A senior U.S. official and democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi discussed sanctions against Myanmar's military government Friday as Washington considers whether to ease the country's isolation.
Last year, President Barack Obama said that since decades of sanctions had failed to bring about change in Myanmar, perhaps dialogue would be more fruitful. Suu Kyi also suggested last year she might be open to an easing of the measures, which she has long supported.
However, after a recent election that was widely criticized as a sham, both the U.S. and the democracy advocate may be reconsidering their positions.
Joseph Y. Yun, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the meeting Friday with Suu Kyi at her lakeside home was "very productive."
"I learned a lot and I'll get back to Washington now to digest the three days of meetings here," he told reporters. During his visit, Yun also met Foreign Minister Nyan Win and other government officials, members of several political parties and U.N. representatives.
The visit came after Nov. 7 elections that were widely criticized as merely a way to cement military rule.
Suu Kyi was released after the vote from seven years of detention. Her National League for Democracy party did not take part in the balloting, and was disbanded by the government as a result.
Suu Kyi told reporters that she and Yun "discussed a number of issues including sanctions," but did not elaborate.
Ties between Myanmar and the U.S. have been strained since the Southeast Asian country's military crushed pro-democracy protests in 1988. Since then, Washington has been Myanmar's strongest critic and maintained a raft of political and economic sanctions to punish the junta for its poor human rights record and failure to move toward democracy.
But last year, Obama suggested that engaging more with country might be wiser. The sanctions have meanwhile remained in place.
Suu Kyi, whose party won elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power, has long favored the sanctions, but she, too, seemed to have a change of heart recently. Late last year, she wrote to junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe stating her willingness to cooperate in having international sanctions eased.
Since her release from house arrest last month, however, she has been noncommittal, saying she would back their removal if Myanmar's people want them lifted.
Though several other western countries have similar policies, the punishments have yielded few results, as natural gas-rich Myanmar maintains strong ties with China, India and other important trading partners.