Burma: Policy Review

Scot Marciel
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand
November 5, 2009

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Thank you very much, and thank you all for coming. Assistant Secretary Campbell and I just returned last night from a two-day visit to Burma. It was an exploratory mission. The main purpose of the visit was really to explain to the key parties there, and I don’t just mean political parties, but the stakeholders in the country - government, political parties, opposition, ethnic minority groups, et cetera - to kind of explain the context of our recently concluded policy review, but also to hear from them, their views and their ideas.

Let me begin by talking a little bit about the policy review. As you know, Secretary Clinton announced in Jakarta in February that we would begin this policy review and she stated quite clearly at the outset that the reason for the policy review was that our previous approach, which relied heavily on sanctions, had not achieved the desired results. That’s a factual statement.

She also said that the ASEAN approach of engagement had not achieved the results. So the purpose of the review was not really to question the fundamental goals of our approach, but rather to see if there was a more effective way that we could try to bring about positive developments in the country.

So we undertook that review. It went on for quite some time. It was recently concluded a few months ago. The results of that review were first, to reaffirm our fundamental goals for Burma. That we want to see a Burma that is at peace, unified, prosperous, stable, respects the rights of all of its citizens, and is democratic. That hasn’t changed.

What we said, what we concluded in terms of approach, was that we were going to maintain our existing sanctions, even though sanctions by themselves had not worked sufficiently - they were still a valid tool of our policy, so we’re maintaining the existing sanctions pending progress; that we would begin pragmatic engagement with the government; that we would continue our humanitarian assistance to help the people of the country as long as we were confident that that assistance was actually reaching the people and doing what it was intended to do. And we also committed to talk to the Burmese authorities about our concerns about non-proliferation, particularly related to North Korea.

So as part of our pragmatic engagement piece we agreed to begin a dialogue - a senior level dialogue with the government - but also with opposition groups, ethnic minority groups, all of the people who have an important role to play in the country’s future.

We had an introductory meeting in New York, I believe it was late September, where we met with the Burmese Minister of Science and Technology who the government had designated to meet with us, and we sort of laid out where we were and what we hoped to achieve. Then, as I said, we took this trip the last two days to meet with the government, to meet with others.

We spent a day in Naypyidaw where we met with several government officials, government ministers, including the Minister of Science and Technology; the Minister of Information; and then yesterday morning, with the Prime Minister as well as with some others.

Then we were in Rangoon most of the day yesterday where we met with representatives from several of the ethnic minority groups. We met with the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy. We met with Aung San Suu Kyi, and we met with some other people who had views on both the political and the economic situation in Burma.

In all of these meetings we explained the results of our policy review, where we were. There’s been some, I think, misunderstanding or misinterpretation about some elements of it so we tried to clarify what we were doing and what we were not doing. We reaffirmed our commitment in all the meetings to a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Burma.

We stressed in our view the importance of a beginning genuine dialogue within the country, between the government, the opposition, and ethnic minority groups which we really see as critical. There’s a lot of talk about elections, there’s a lot of talk about sanctions, but fundamentally the main problem there is the lack of an inclusive political process, and we think that a dialogue among the key players is the best way forward.

And of course we’re not alone. The international community, the United Nations, have long been calling for that kind of dialogue.

We stressed that in our view the purpose of a dialogue should be to move toward national reconciliation and a fully inclusive political process. And toward that end, we again urged the government to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to have regular access and engagement with her NLD colleagues as well as with others.

We highlighted the importance and the concerns about a wide range of human rights issues including but not limited to political prisoners, treatment of ethnic minorities, et cetera.

In our meetings with the government we underscored, as we’ve said publicly, our willingness to move toward better relations, to take steps on our part to improve relations with the country of Burma, but also that this would only be possible to the extent that there was progress inside the country. This is very important. We’re willing to move ahead, but there needs to be progress inside the country.

So we had, as I said, significant serious meetings with a wide range of people. We laid out our views. We listened a lot to people both in the government and the ethnic minority groups and in the opposition.

Let me stress again that this was an exploratory mission. I read yesterday Bertil Lintner’s good article warning of past failures of diplomatic efforts. I think we’re aware of that. It’s useful to be reminded of that.

My own view is that when you look at the record, these past efforts haven’t succeeded. You can draw two conclusions from that. One is don’t try. Two is to try but to be aware of just how difficult this is. We go into this knowing full well how difficult this is going to be. We’re not under any illusions. But we feel that there are 50-55 million people in the country who deserve the efforts of the international community to try to help bring about progress and we’re very committed to that.

So let me stop there, and I look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Marciel. We have a good chunk of time, about 45 minutes. I would like to do this in rounds. Let’s take the first round. The first round perhaps by diplomats, academics, members of the public; and then the second round we’ll go to the media maybe.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: If there are no questions, I’ll go ahead and…(laughter).

MODERATOR: Go to the airport.

QUESTION: (Inaudible). The first question is do you anticipate any (inaudible) to come up with an inclusive dialogue within the country of Burma? The second question is after you have been explaining this to the people you met, the partners, the stakeholders, what is their response?
Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: On your first question, I won’t, to be honest, try to anticipate. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We will have to see. I’ve seen in the past people suggesting that they think this or that is going to happen inside Burma. I just don’t know.

We certainly hope there will be a dialogue. I don’t frankly see how there can be a credible election that brings legitimacy without inclusive participation, and I don’t see how that can happen without a dialogue. So if there is to be a credible election that fundamentally changes the dynamics in the country, I think there needs to be dialogue and there needs to be participation.

In terms of the reaction, what I would say is I think many of the opposition groups and the ethnic minority groups have been very clear publicly for some time that they support a dialogue, an internal dialogue, and would look forward to participating in that. We’ll have to see where the government comes out on that.

QUESTION: Mr. Marciel, you mentioned that during these discussions you have also touched on the issue of nuclear proliferation and the contacts between the regime and North Korea. Would you be able in any way to elaborate on that? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: What I can say is that there have been reports of cooperation and closer relations between Burma and North Korea, including on the military side. There have been things in the press you’ve seen speculating about nuclear cooperation. And I think the situation we’re in is we want to, I think the international community wants to work with the Burmese authorities to find out what the facts are and to impress upon the government the importance particularly of honoring and abiding by UN Security Council Resolution 1874.

So I think there is a need for information sharing and dialogue.

QUESTION: Thank you for a very clear message to hear from you. We hope also that you received our open letter that we have tried to reach to you before the eve of your trip. My first question is already addressed by my colleague from the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma.

My second question is actually, when we look at since the review of the U.S. policy, many key players both internationally and in the region have looked up to what is coming from the U.S. We have also observed, there are some positive steps being taken, particularly by the ASEAN, such as calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. (Inaudible) particularly after looking to the new policy of the U.S. and saying that it looks to us like on one hand first of all is that we would like to see the Burma democracy movement, Burma’s movement for democracy and rights of ethnic nationalities. We see the new policy is in line with our call, and we really appreciate and we are very encouraged to see that.

But on the other hand we also would like to get more clarification from you because we observe that there seems to be a misinterpretation by some of the key ASEAN players of the new policy of the U.S., with the aims to follow the ASEAN’s, I would say highly problematic brand of constructive engagement. I would like to her the comment from you. Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Thank you. It’s a very good question. Various countries have taken various approaches to Burma. None of us have succeeded so I think we all should be very humble and not assume that we have the answers until we actually produce some results.

For there to be progress in Burma there are two things that have to happen. One, there has to be the primary effort inside the country. The international community by itself cannot do this. It has to happen from within the country. But second, the international community has to work in support of that, including ASEAN. We talk about this with our ASEAN colleagues a lot, as well as with others. I think the message from all of us ought to be very clear.

There is an opportunity for progress not for the first time in Burma. The elections could be, could be an opportunity, but they will only be an opportunity if they’re done right and that means involving everybody in a way, starting with a dialogue so that all sides can agree to the conditions. There can be a real campaign, real elections.

I think the message from the international community, including ASEAN, needs to be that the first step has to be a dialogue inside the country. I think it’s critical that all of us reiterate that message. Because if there’s not, and if the so-called seven step road map goes ahead without the broader participation and inclusiveness, it doesn’t solve any problems.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MODERATOR: Let me repeat the question. The question has to do with the fear and intimidation from the SPDC, from the military regime, and whether the U.S. is mindful of this.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: If I understood correctly, it’s also whether we’re taking steps to address the regime’s potential fear that they may suffer if they lose power.

QUESTION: The real (inaudible), is why would they give up power? Why wouldn’t they resist? (Inaudible) very afraid that if they do they’re going to get retribution (inaudible), so it seems to me that the (inaudible) policy (inaudible) take into account their paranoia, which is legitimate. What I’m asking is, is the U.S. government discussing with the other side, so to speak, what they think about this issue, how they would handle it.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: I understand. This is, again, why there needs to be a dialogue. I don’t want to speak for the opposition, the NLD, but my understanding is that the opposition has said they’re asking for a dialogue -- dialogue to find a way ahead. I think in that dialogue it would be for the participants on the Burmese side to address all of these issues. I don’t think it’s for the United States to address those issues.

To the extent that people in the government are concerned, I think sooner or later there’s going to be change in the country. Much better for many reasons, much, much better for that to be change that’s worked out over in a meeting, a series of meetings, over a table, for a smooth process. I think my view is that actually reduces the risks and should reduce the fears.

QUESTION: Ambassador, you’ve laid out the issues that you spoke about, the American positions on a range of issues. What is the sense you got from the SPDC, from the people you met from the government? What are their issues? What are their concerns? And have they taken on board -- to what extent have they taken on board some of the issues that you spoke about from the American point of view? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: They listened. We listened a lot as well to them. Much of what they talked about was explaining their view of their political process. We, as I said, highlighted what we thought was essential. As I said, this is early days. It’s the first time we’ve met most of these people, so I think it’s going to take some time to see how they respond.

QUESTION: Ambassador Marciel, Assistant Secretary Campbell recently testified to the Congress that the United States priorities on Burma are, and I quote, “The unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, an end to conflicts with ethnic minority groups, accountability to those responsible for human rights violations, and the initiation of a genuine dialogue among the Burmese government, democratic opposition, and the ethnic minorities on a shared vision for the way forward in Burma.”

So in your view, my first question is how much closer is Burma to the achievement of these priorities now that you have had a chance to visit the SPDC and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma? My second question is, in view of the escalating military threats against ethnic communities, what will be the catalyst for the United States to push harder on accountability of those responsible for human rights violations? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: How much closer is Burma to meeting these goals? I think it’s really important in these situations not to anticipate progress, but to wait and see if there is tangible progress. If there is, we will see it and we will all know it. Until that happens I don’t want to predict progress. My view is it’s quite clear: we will see progress if and when it happens. I’m not sure we’re there yet.

In terms of the second question on the ethnic minorities we again, Secretary Campbell and I highlighted our concerns about the treatment of ethnic minorities and we’ll continue to raise those concerns.

To the extent that the government continues to, if it pursues more military attacks against the ethnic minorities, obviously that’s a step in the wrong direction and it’s not helpful. I’m sorry for stating the obvious, but I’m not sure I can say much more than that.

QUESTION: Two questions. In your meetings with the Burmese officials, could you describe the body language? (Laughter). Because they are known for nodding, listening, and ignoring what envoys say. My second question is, in your encounter with Aung San Suu Kyi, is she interested in participating in the elections? Or do you think in the spirit of compromise she might settle for stepping out of the equation to let the process go forward?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: We have the term body English. I speak English so I can do that, but I don’t speak Burmese. I really wouldn’t try to comment on the body language. I can say that in our meetings with Burmese officials they were, both sides spoke, both sides listened. There was nothing, I just don’t want to comment too much on that. As to whether they ignored us, I think time will tell.

On Aung San Suu Kyi, I am definitely not going to speak on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi or speculate as to what she and others in NLD may decide. That’s really their decision. One thing that would certainly help and I think is essential is for her to be able to have a regular opportunity to interact with her NLD colleagues so that they as a party can decide how they want to proceed.

Question: Thank you and apologies, in a way. I think my question has already recently been asked and answered. What I was going to ask, I guess in brief, is what next? What will keep this process going? Obviously progress, broadly defined, was your answer. But in terms of in whose court the ball is, what steps might you anticipate happening next, what will help sustain the process to another iteration, perhaps a further meeting. Again, as I say, apologies, because in a way the question has already been asked, but I wanted to take the opportunity to ask it in another way.

Ambassador Marciel: Thanks, I think I can add a little bit to what I said earlier. We did not anticipate that one trip to Burma by us would solve all the problems that so many able people over many years have not been able to solve. So I think we understood from the beginning that this was going to be a process and not simply a matter of a meeting or two.

On the other hand, we’re very well aware that there is a time concern because you have the Burmese political process moving ahead, and if it moves ahead in a way that’s not inclusive, that doesn’t promote national reconciliation, then the Burmese government will have lost a huge opportunity.

So it’s one of those situations where on the one hand it takes time to achieve progress. On the other hand, time is finite. So we’re very well aware of that. We certainly expect to continue working and talking to all the stakeholders, including the government, but also others trying to find a way forward. But obviously the key question is will the government be willing to take some positive steps. We just have to wait and see.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One is about your engagement policies. You have alluded to some of the principal issues like a dialogue and then the release of political prisoners and also the inclusive process. But apart from these principal issues, can you describe what are the benchmarks for (inaudible) diplomacy? What are the next steps that you would like to follow in the few months? And in that strategy, to what extent will you also repeat what you did in 2007 with support of government of China?

My second question has to do with humanitarian assistance. You have emphasized that you will continue providing humanitarian assistance. So my question is to what extent do you have any discussions with the Burmese authorities with regard to the modality of increasing humanitarian assistance with the country, and whether that assistance might be also used in promoting the civil society involvement in the humanitarian space? And to what extent that could also become a tool for exempting the sanction regime - which I understood that there are humanitarian exemptions in the sanction policies - to what extent that can be also used.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: First, your question about benchmarks. Again, the goal here is for there to be a genuine sustained dialogue inside the country as I’d say a medium term step. Obviously there are long term goals that I outlined earlier about democracy and increased prosperity and peace and all those sorts of things, but we think a dialogue, sustained dialogue is an essential benchmark.

There’s any number of things that the Burmese government could do to create the conditions for that. Certainly, releasing political prisoners, allowing more interaction by Aung San Suu Kyi with her counterparts, these sorts of things. And there’s a whole host of things they could do to improve the human rights situation. I won’t try to list them here, but mostly stop doing a number of things that are very problematic. And I think we’re going to be very clear about this, that we certainly want to see progress. We’re willing to move in terms of the bilateral relationship, but we’re only going to do that if there’s real progress. We’re not going to do it absent that.

In terms of 2007, the one-time dialogue that took place in Beijing, my predecessor and current ambassador to Thailand, Eric John, met with Burmese officials in Beijing in June of 2007. We were prepared to meet following that. That Burmese government showed no interest. And subsequently there was the crackdown. That happened then, we’re taking a different approach now.

On humanitarian assistance, we did have discussions in Naypyidaw with Kyaw Thu, the Chairman of the Tripartheid core group who briefed us on relief efforts. We reiterated our willingness to continue to provide assistance as long as we were confident that we had access and that assistance was getting to the right people. We highlighted the importance of continuing to allow NGOs to work.

In terms of the effect on civil society, we’re providing humanitarian assistance because we think it’s helping people. Any other derivatives from that may or may not happen, but that’s not our intent. Our focus is that it’s not the reason that we’re doing it. We’re actually trying to provide humanitarian assistance for the obvious humanitarian reasons.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One is where does the process go from here? The logistics? I understood that there was going to be appointment of special envoys on both sides. Is Kurt Campbell going to remain the envoy as far as America’s concerned? And U Thaung, the Burmese counterpart? What kinds of meetings might there be from now on? Are we going to see Hillary Clinton meet (inaudible) in the sidelines of APEC or the U.S.-ASEAN Summit?

Secondly, one of the things that has failed has been the UN efforts to bring about dialogue and facilitate progress. Since the American policy shift was announced there’s been a hiatus within the UN as to what they can do and one suspects that the Burmese only want to deal with one person or with one country and that they’re no longer happy or interested in the UN. What does the U.S. see as the UN’s role, given that in some ways you’ve big-footed them?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Big-footed is your term, Larry, not mine. (Laughter).
Logistics. Look, we expect that we’ll have a series of conversations both with Burmese officials and with others in Burma, and of course we have an embassy in Rangoon that interacts regularly with a wide range of people both in and out of the government, so I think there will be a whole series of conversations that continue to take place.

In terms of special envoys, the JADE ACT mandates that we name a special envoy. We are in the process of moving to name a special envoy. Meanwhile, Kurt Campbell and to some extent I are working on that. Once a special envoy is named I think all of us will work together. Exactly how we’ll divide things up is to be seen. On the Burmese side, we understand the Burmese have asked Minister U Thaung to be our counterpart. I haven’t heard anything different and of course that’s up to them.

Next steps in terms of anything in Singapore, I don’t anticipate a meeting at a level that you’re talking about but there could be lower level conversations. We just don’t know.

UN efforts. Again, as I said earlier, I think it’s important that all elements of the international community, including the United Nations, work together. We have been in close touch with the United Nations. I met with Ibrahim Gambari before we went out. Because it’s essential that the international community speak as much as possible with one voice here, I think we all have roles to play. So no big-footing on our part.

QUESTION: The constitution that the Burmese rulers have drawn up last year has been widely dismissed as perpetuating military rule irrespective of what happens with the elections, reconciliation, dialogue, et cetera. Did you raise this issue specifically during your meetings? And the NLD has called for a constitutional review. Are you going to specifically back that?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: We heard a lot from people about the constitution. I think when the constitution was being drafted we spoke out very clearly that we thought the process was seriously flawed. It was not inclusive.

When the referendum took place in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, I think we spoke out very clearly, I don’t remember our exact language, but we made it very clear that we did not think that was a credible referendum by any stretch of the imagination. So we do agree that the constitution is significantly flawed.

I think you have a situation where the way ahead that we can see goes back to the point about a dialogue where the NLD, ethnic minority groups - many of whom also have strong views about the constitution - and the government have to sit down and try to find a way ahead. I think we have to leave it to them to decide on the details of that, but I don’t see any way forward without that kind of dialogue.

QUESTION: Ambassador, I wonder whether you could discuss - let me go back to talk about election next year - whether the ambassador talked with the government, the military, and stakeholders about next year free and fair elections. I wonder whether how they can have free elections when the media have been controlled totally in Burma like that. That is the first part.

The second part is about independent election commission. Are they going to have this kind of independent institution that we have in other countries in Asia? And also have you talked about whether they will allow the international community to observe their election next year or even the international media to make the news about the election next year? Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: I think the best way to answer that is we have not taken a position on the elections at this point. I think there are sort of two stages here potentially. Before you get to questions in our mind about whether there will be an independent electoral commission and media allowed to participate and that sort of thing, I think you have to go back to the question about whether these elections are going to be managed - that’s the wrong word. Whether the government is going to create conditions leading up to the election that make it possible at all for them to be credible, let alone free or fair.

So before getting into the details about the election process itself, I think you first have to answer the question about whether the government is going to allow -- have this dialogue that I keep stressing with the opposition and the ethnic minority groups.

But let’s be honest. If the government moves ahead with its election without participation by the parties and the groups that won substantial majority in the last election, it doesn’t matter what electoral commission they have or how much media there is. It’s not going to be credible.

So the first question, and I think we have to keep focused on this - you can have an election day in which people observe and the votes are counted freely, but if in the lead-up to that you have not created the conditions for full participation by everybody under agreed upon rules, it doesn’t really solve the problem. So again, it’s important that the first step take place before the second step.

QUESTION: A question about the ethnic groups. Can you tell us which ones you met with? I presume, for instance, not the Wa. Can you tell us what the reading was, what the Burmese officials told you about the stand-off in the north? And how you would like to see better treatment for the ethnic groups, and you’d also like to see crackdown on a lot of the drugs that are produced by these ethnic groups. How do you reconcile those two positions given that a crackdown on the drug producers would probably, by the Burmese army and they’re incapable of acting without, in the past they have, inflicting human rights abuses.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: We met with seven or eight representatives of ethnic minority groups. I’m not going to say who specifically, but I would say we met with representatives from several of the largest ethnic groups in Rangoon. We met in Rangoon with them.

They offered their views on a whole range of issues. The constitution, elections, the question of the government’s effort to agree to transform into border guards, et cetera. They had a variety of views obviously representing different groups. We were mostly listening to their views. Obviously [they have] big concerns about the upcoming elections as well as the government’s concerns about how the government will deal with them militarily.

In terms of better treatment of the ethnic groups and squaring that with drug trade, it’s obviously very complicated. I think, again, I know I’m repeating myself here, but in the end there needs to be a dialogue that works out an agreement here on the military side of things. And I think that’s very separate from the issue of drugs. Certainly we’re opposed to drug trafficking but certainly don’t want the military to go in and attack people and create human rights violations as they have in the past. So it’s very complicated, I agree with you.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, you touched a lot on the issue of the international community speaking with one voice. We didn’t talk about the EU yet. Have you been in touch with EU officials prior to this trip? Do you think it’s desirable to have coordination? Have you tried? Has it failed? Do you think it’s okay if the U.S. and Europe may have their own approaches which may differ?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Yes, we have been in touch with the EU before we came out here, and we’re in regular conversation with them. I think generally we have quite similar approaches.

I think it’s possible for the international community to have slightly different approaches, but to agree on some key points. I think that’s where we are with the EU. I think we’re in general agreement on the key essential points. We might have slightly different approaches, and that’s fine. So we’re very comfortable with where we are with the EU and appreciate their role.

QUESTION: There are a variety of reasons I guess why America is keen to be involved in trying to help the situation in Burma at the moment. Can you tell us why do you think the Burmese government, the military generals, are so keen to be involved in this process of dialogue at the moment? What do you think?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: I don’t know. (Laughter). We’ve asked them. I don’t know. I mean you can speculate, but I don’t want to try to speculate on behalf of them.

QUESTION: No theories?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Speculation, which I think I’ll avoid.

QUESTION: Ambassador Marciel, you have mentioned you have discussed with the Burmese government about the human rights issue. There are a lot of Muslims in Western Burma (inaudible), they are fleeing their land to (inaudible) due to the religious suppression and human rights violations. Have you discussed with the Burmese government about this issue? And how do you solve the problem? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: We agree; we’re very aware of the situation. It’s terrible. It’s a big problem. It’s one of unfortunately many very serious human rights problems. I can say that we’ve talked with the Burmese government in general about our concerns about the treatment of different ethnic groups and sometimes that treatment is different as in the case of the Rohingya.

How it’s solved, it will be solved when the Burmese government decides to treat them better. I don’t mean to be flip, but it’s not something, I think it’s something that the international community needs to push the Burmese government to address because the treatment is quite bad. There’s no easy answer other than the Burmese authorities, I hope, by talking to people, listening to people in their own country, will see that there’s a better way to manage this.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask, I know the sanctions remain in place, and we continue to be engaged in humanitarian efforts in Myanmar. But how should or should we be engaged in trying to help ensure that the elections next year are as free and fair as possible? Or should we, the international community, be stepping back and waiting to see what the government in Burma does?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: As I said earlier, you can see a scenario under which the elections could be a step forward, but as I said, that would require well before the elections a serious and sustained dialogue among all the players to see if there could be agreement on the way forward. That would have to address the constitutional issues among many others.

Our view is that it’s important for the international community to focus first on trying to create that basic dialogue toward national reconciliation so that the political process can be broadened and be inclusive. If that happens, then I think there’s a potential to look at the elections more hopefully. Absent that, it’s quite hard to be optimistic.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, a couple of questions. When you asked for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, what specifically was the government response? On the constitution, it guarantees 25 percent of the seats to the military. Does State believe that it is possible to have a free and fair election while that still stands?

Also, since you announced your policy review in February, the government has locked up Aung San Suu Kyi for 18 months, launched offensives against two ethnic minorities, and recently conducted another crackdown against political opponents. What lessons do you draw from those series of events, and how hopeful does it make you about the process?

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: Let me take your last question first.

As I said earlier, when we began this process we were not under any illusions that this was going to be easy and that our announcement of a new approach was suddenly going to change things. This is very difficult, and we certainly see and are concerned about the actions that you mentioned. Again, we have been very clear going into this that we did not think this was going to be easy and there are going to be setbacks and we’ll have to see whether there can be progress over time.

In terms of the first question about Aung San Suu Kyi, we’ve been asking repeatedly for her release. My view is that it really doesn’t matter what the Burmese government says so much as what it does. They release her or they don’t. The point here is that there has been talk about them hinting here and there. That’s not particularly useful. Either they release her or they don’t, so we’re looking for them to release her.

On the constitution and the seats reserved for the military and the impact on the elections, I think there are two separate issues. We’ve talked already about the flaws in the constitution and key groups inside the country that don’t accept that constitution. So for the elections to be free and fair, there needs to be some process that would make all the groups, the key groups, feel that they had confidence in the elections, and that goes back to the point about dialogue including about possibly the terms of the constitution.

QUESTION: I’d just like to, first of all, I applaud your efforts of the U.S .government to engage constructively and to have dialogue, but I would like to take a devil’s advocate position right now since it’s only five days after Halloween. (Laughter). And three days after Loy Krathong.

Anyway, the fact is that exactly almost a year ago President Obama was elected on a platform of change. But a year since, if you look at just some of the domestic legislation that’s in the Congress and so forth, there’s quite a lot of resistance to change, and now here we are even talking about a democratic country.

So if we switch to our neighboring country here, which I would characterize as rather impervious to change up to now it seems, how do you think whether the U.S. policy on Myanmar would be able to succeed? Taking into consideration not so much in this case resistance maybe domestically, but perhaps from some of the countries that are still supporting Burma. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: It’s no question that change is difficult in most places, and certainly in Burma as we’ve seen over the last 20 years. I guess what I would say is I do think that the Burmese will make their own decisions. I don’t think it will be because if they want to change I don’t think they’re going to let another country stop them.

The key here, I think, is for all of us in the international community to work to try to persuade the people inside the country that there is a way ahead that doesn’t have to be threatening to them, and that could put the country on a much better path, not only in terms of democracy and human rights, but in terms of economic progress, et cetera.

If you look at Burma, it has fallen dramatically relative to all of its neighbors in terms of a wide range of measures - everything from infant mortality, maternal health, prevalence of serious diseases, quality of education, et cetera. This is a country that’s been moving steadily backwards, unfortunately, for a long time.

I do think that there are a lot of people in the country who care about their country and want to see it move ahead.

The whole point here is that there is a way ahead and it will involve change. There cannot be progress without change. It will not be easy. There will be people who will resist, obviously. But the alternative is for the country to continue to move backwards. It’s not just about politics, it’s much broader than that. So the key is for the international community to sort of point out that there is a way ahead. There really is, and it would have to involve working with people throughout the country. The opposition has reached out and called for a dialogue. I think this is an opportunity that I hope the government will take.

QUESTION: Thank you for giving us a briefing on what took place a few days ago and yesterday.

You mentioned that many before you have failed, and I’m curious, again, following the devil’s advocate, if I can be a little bit of a pessimist, how is the State Department, how is the policy adjusting itself to the possibility that having linked progress internally to diplomatic progress of the possibility that it will fail, the possibility that the dialogue that you talked about as being crucial for it to be a fair and free election won’t take place?

And I’m wondering if the U.S. State Department is considering other possibilities of the stick to follow the carrot and if those would include Security Council. There has been a movement for ICC, ICJ, to examine war crimes taking place in Eastern Burma and other places in Arakhine state, and if the U.S. is open to supporting those efforts. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: As I said, we’re going into this with eyes wide open. I’ve been working on Burma for five years, others much longer. So we’re not under any illusions and we’re aware that success is far from guaranteed. I think though, before we sort of come to any conclusions about what we do next, we’re going to proceed for a while. Then if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something different.

QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that you reviewed the policy of sanctions and decided it wasn’t achieving its goals, in which case what do you plan to do about this? Do you plan to tweak them? Are there some sanctions which are more effective than others? Are there things you could do with the sanctions regime which would have a better effect? Or is there an argument for lifting them as an incentive for further progress?

My follow-up question would be what you’re here to see, to meet with Thai officials during your trip to Thailand. Can you just tell us what role, if any, Thailand will have beyond the "it would be nice if they could help". Is there something that Thailand can do given its trading role, the fact that you’ve got millions of Burmese here?

And also the military-to-military links between Thailand and Burma. Is there something that, some avenue you could work there? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: On sanctions, what I said was the policy that relied heavily on sanctions but without dialogue had not succeeded, but that sanctions were still, in our view, a useful tool and they remain part of what we’re trying to use as a policy instrument.

We do not think it’s appropriate or wise to lift sanctions now absent progress, but certainly we’d be looking at sanctions if there is progress. The purpose of the sanctions is not just for the satisfaction of having them, but rather to try to achieve an end, and if we begin to see progress then obviously we can look at a whole range of issues in terms of improving the bilateral relationship, and if there’s sufficient progress we can start talking to our congress about sanctions. So I continue to think they’re a useful part of the policy, but by themselves not sufficient.

In terms of Thailand’s role, I think we consult closely and regularly with our very good friends here in Thailand on a whole range of issues including on Burma. They have a lot of knowledge and history. I think and we hope that Thailand, as it has done, will continue to urge for progress, use its diplomatic engagement with its neighbor to encourage progress, to encourage dialogue. I think that’s the most helpful things they can do.

QUESTION: There seems to be a deeply set historically rooted paranoia in Burma that is reflecting the sense that there’s a fear of national disintegration and of external interference from great powers that we know about from history. I wonder if you can comment on how that’s influenced your thinking and engagement with them.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: First, we’ve been very clear that we support a unified nation of Burma. That’s always been true and we’ve highlighted that and made it clear that we certainly have no intention of any kind of intervention.

In terms of the fear of national disintegration, that’s certainly clear. But again, when you have problems like this, for us the best approach is to talk to people and see if you can work out your differences. That’s fundamentally what we’re suggesting here. I realize there’s a difference in culture, political culture and so on, and we recognize that, but I think we come back to that conclusion still, that that’s our advice as a country that wants to see a unified and prosperous and successful Burma.

QUESTION: Ambassador, you stressed many times, emphasized importance of engaging with international community. I wonder what’s the extent of U.S. Government to engage with ASEAN community in this case.

AMBASSADOR MARCIEL: One of my hats is Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs, so I spend a lot of my time in doing just that. Not just to talk about Burma, of course. We have a whole range of issues to work with ASEAN on.

But we have for a long time and continue to consult very closely with all ASEAN countries to try to hear ideas and find areas where we can work together to promote progress in Burma and we’ll certainly continue to do that. We value ASEAN’s role.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Marciel has been frank, wide ranging, and expansive. I also want to thank the audience and those who raised questions for keeping them brief. Please join me in thanking Ambassador Scot Marciel for his remarks today and for his time. Thank you.

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