YANGON, Myanmar – The top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar said Wednesday he has begun talking with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi about what sort of aid Washington should offer the military-dominated nation.
Charge d'Affaires Larry M. Dinger said the U.S. is also talking to the government and others about the issue, which hinges around long-standing sanctions Washington has applied because of human rights abuses by the country's junta and its failure to institute democracy.
Parliamentary rule was nominally restored last month, but a new civilian government has yet to be officially installed. The constitution and last year's elections were organized under the guidance of the military to preserve its influence.
Dinger said he began talks with Suu Kyi on Tuesday aimed at helping formulate U.S. policy toward Myanmar. Washington's relations with Myanmar have been strained since the military crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, and the U.S. still refers to the country by its old name, Burma, which was changed by the junta. It also demonstrates its disapproval of the government by not posting a full ambassador in the country.
Han Tha, an executive member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, confirmed that Suu Kyi had talked with Dinger for 1 1/2 hours at his residence, but declined to reveal the details of the talks.
The Obama administration has been exploring ways of engaging with the government, while Suu Kyi's party has cautioned against lifting sanctions too quickly.
Suu Kyi's party earlier this month broadly endorsed retaining international sanctions against Myanmar. However, it also called for discussions with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia on when and how sanctions might be modified in the interests of democracy, human rights and the economy.
In response, a commentary in a state newspaper warned that Suu Kyi and her party would meet "tragic ends" if they move against recent political reforms and criticized her for failing to end her support of sanctions.
Myanmar's state-dominated press had avoided its usual harsh criticism of Suu Kyi since she was freed shortly after the November elections, which were touted by the ruling junta as bringing democracy. The U.S. has called the balloting "fatally flawed."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the commentary suggested that if Suu Kyi proceeds with plans to reconstitute her party, "she could be in some danger." He said the commentary was of "great concern" because it was published in a state-run newspaper, "so one would assume there's actually something behind this."