Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Meeting With Burmese President

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Nay Pyi Taw, Burma
December 1, 2011

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hey. Let’s begin. We are in Nay Pyi Taw. We wanted to give you a sense of the meeting that Secretary Clinton just completed with Burmese President Thein Sein. This will be on background, Senior State Department Official.

The meeting was conducted, as you saw, in that big hall, with full teams on either side. It was relatively formal. The president gave a very comprehensive and strategic presentation, went on for about 45 minutes, and then the Secretary gave a long presentation. We then broke up for lunch, and they had a chance to sit together, so the exchange that they had after the formal presentations happened at lunch. And as you know, the president’s wife also was able to join for lunch, so that was more informal. But this was the first time that the president had welcomed official Americans in Nay Pyi Taw.

QUESTION: Can you describe the tenor of both the meeting and the lunch? Was it light or was it tense?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, it was very – the – it was very workmanlike. I think, first of all, let me say that we will have a fuller debrief on the whole day with our team when we get to Rangoon. But because we know a lot of you are trying to file before we leave Nay Pyi Taw, we wanted to give you a sense of this meeting. So let’s do this, and we’ll have a chance to give more atmospherics, more back-and-forth, more questions at the end of the day. But I just wanted to give you a sense of the substance of this.

So the President’s presentation, in addition to, obviously, welcoming the Secretary, making note of the historic nature of the visit, the desire to strengthen and improve relations with the United States, made a very comprehensive and a very strategic presentation of several aspects of the reform program that he and his government are leading. He spoke about political reform, economic reform, and reform efforts with regard to the minority areas. He very frankly acknowledged the difficulties, that this country does not have a recent tradition in this regard, that they want and very much appreciate outside help in their reform efforts.

When the Secretary made her presentation, he listened very carefully, very attentively, as did his government, taking notes. And he was also grateful for the modest first steps, which I’ll come to, that the Secretary was able to advise him that the United States would announce at her press conference in about an hour.

First, with regard to the political process, he expressed considerable confidence that the people of his country have given their support for the process of democratization, and he said, “We will try our utmost to create an inclusive political space, stage by stage.”

With regard to the political opening, he himself made note of the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi is now registering her party, and the government’s expectation that she will run for the parliament in the bi-elections.

QUESTION: Is there – is the government’s expectation she will run?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That she will run – it is the government’s expectation that she will run for parliament in the bi-elections, and that if elected, she will serve.

He also spoke quite extensively about the government’s efforts and aspirations with regard to national reconciliation. He said that they are conducting a dialogue with 10 different ethnic groups, that their goal was a ceasefire, economic empowerment and growth in these areas, and that the first steps of reconciliation would encourage these groups to participate in the political process, that the government wants to see them participate in the political process.

He also made mention of the recent release of political prisoners and said that the government considers the prisoner release part of the effort of having an inclusive political process, and that they have a legal process in place to consider more releases, and that they are looking at that now. But the implication was very much in line with what Aung San Suu Kyi herself has said, that you can’t have these people participate in the political process if there aren’t more releases.

He also asked for, and said that they were seeking broadly, international support to strengthen and assure freedom of the media, and that in the government’s view, this was linked to increasing accountability for the government and their aspirations to have what he called a good and clean government.

He also expressed strong reassurances with regard to the country’s commitment to uphold UN Security Council Resolutions 1874 and 1718 with regard to their nuclear obligations.

QUESTION: They will uphold them?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That they will. And that they are strongly considering signing the IAEA Additional Protocol, and that they are already engaged in work and dialogue with the IAEA.

QUESTION: What was that last part? I’m sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That they are strongly considering signing the IAEA Additional Protocol.

QUESTION: The IAEA (inaudible) Additional Protocol?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Additional Protocol, and that they are already in discussions with the IAEA.

QUESTION: Does that mean severing their ties?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me get through the brief, okay?

He also spoke at some length about the government’s aspiration and program in the area of poverty reduction, economic development, and education, making clear that the government understands that they fallen behind, in education in particular.

Those were the main areas that he covered in his presentation, in addition to talking about their desire for good relations with all of their neighbors and the international community.

The Secretary then gave her presentation. In addition to, obviously, thanking the government for welcoming the visit, making the appropriate arrangements for the visit, she made clear that this is the next step in a process that we have been going through together, that President Obama has supported and endorsed, to evaluate the process of reform and see how the United States might be able to support and encourage it. She noted that we had been engaged over the years with many countries that had made the historic choice to transition from military governance to democracy, and that we have some experience in supporting and encouraging these trends, whether they were in Latin America or Asia or now in Africa.

She noted the steps that have already been made here, in particular the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the registration process for her party, the release of some 200 political prisoners, progress with regard to the labor law and other recent legislation, some beginning opening in media freedom and internet process, and she said that the first steps that she would announce later today were a U.S. response, a modest U.S. response to those first modest steps. And in particular, she outlined the steps that you’ve seen, namely that we will invite this country to be an observer in the Lower Mekong Delta Initiative, which puts together Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, to look at environmental and other issues having to do with the Mekong. And Vietnam, I left out. Thank you, Matt. That we would agree to and support IMF and World Bank assessment missions to begin studying the needs here, that we would support loosening restrictions on UNDP programs, particularly in the area of health and microfinance, and that we looked forward to resuming joint counter-narcotics missions. She also made reference to resuming the search for missing Americans from World War II, and that these were first steps.

But then – she then made a long presentation covering five areas of continuing concern that the United States has with regard to the situation here, and made clear that as the government and the parliament are able to make progress in these five categories, we will seek to take further steps to match what they can do. The five areas of concern that she covered were, in particular, number one, our nuclear concerns and our concerns about military ties with North Korea, and she urged that military ties be broken completely.

Number two, in the area of political reform, that we want to see the process of democratization continue, specifically to see all parties that want to contest in the elections be allowed to register, and that the bi-elections be held in a timely manner.

Third, that we support a rigorous process of reconciliation with the ethnic minorities, and she spoke extensively about our concerns about human rights abuses, and especially the use of rape as a weapon. She called for national reconciliation and said that as significant steps were taken, the United States would look to support those and bring international support for those.

Number four, obviously, political prisoners. She made clear that, from the U.S. perspective, even one political prisoner is one too many, and that we want to see that – them released, all of them.

And number five, our interest in seeing rule of law strengthened here, continued progress in the area of legal reform, media freedom, internet freedom, labor rights, and free rights of assembly.

Her presentation was very detailed, very specific. And again, she concluded her remarks by making clear that we are prepared to work together as this country addresses these areas, and that the U.S. will match steps with steps, action with action, as we’ve said in the past. And then, as I said, the degree to which they had a chance for a freer back-and-forth, that happened at lunch, and we’ll have more for you at the end of the day on that conversation.

QUESTION: In her – the prepared remarks for the press conference, did – she mentions the possibility of the operating relations. Did that – did she mention that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They obviously both talked about a desire for enough progress to take place for that to be possible, but we’re not at that stage yet.

QUESTION: No, I know. But (inaudible).


QUESTION: And then, on this – the modest steps that you talked about, as far as I understand, these things have already been happening.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What have already been happening?

QUESTION: Well, the IMF.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: The IMF has already been in here doing these assessments. The UNDP is already doing these things.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The IMF has not been in to do a formal soup-to-nuts assessment the way it needs to be done in order to have programs go forward. They’ve had some people here, but the United States has not in the past supported a full, comprehensive assessment of needs, and we are now prepared to do that.

On UNDP, the program is very constrained on a humanitarian side, and we are prepared to support, as she says in her statement, growing the program, particularly in the areas of health and microfinance.

QUESTION: [Senior Administration Official], just to be clear, this is happening? She heard enough on the Burmese side to whatever – however the U.S. had its thumb on this stuff, (inaudible) lifting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In these modest categories that she will announce in about an hour.



QUESTION: Did either the Secretary or the Burmese bring up any kind of timeline for any of this stuff?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The expectation was that the process of reform would continue apace. She obviously made clear that the faster this stuff can happen, the faster we can help and relations can become more normal.

QUESTION: Did – you mentioned the MIA (inaudible). Did he respond to that in any way, or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, the meeting didn’t happen that way. He gave his full presentation, she gave her full presentation, and then we repaired to lunch and they sat next to each other in a smaller group.

QUESTION: We should say that she raised the possibility of that --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: She offered the opportunity that, yeah.

QUESTION: And also, there was – so then there was no response on the North Korea (inaudible), other than he said that we would respect (inaudible)? But on the actual severing of military ties, he didn’t --


QUESTION: I understand there wasn’t, but there --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There wasn’t a direct response. He said that they want peaceful, friendly, diplomatic relations with North Korea, and then he was quite emphatic with regard to their respect for the UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: The other thing is, just a couple weeks ago in Bali, I think, he declined to acknowledge the existence of political prisoners. It sounds like by bringing it up, he’s acknowledging it? Or did that come up at all, that he was misunderstood or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He didn’t put it in those terms, but he used the term that I used here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: When he talked about good relations with the neighbors (inaudible), did China come up specifically?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. He said that they want friendly relations with China, and she said that we support that.

QUESTION: Actually, it just – it sounds as though, how you describe his presentation, he basically told her exactly what she wanted to hear. It sounds as though someone briefed him on what – this is what you tell Secretary Clinton and she’ll be impressed. Did you get that sense? I mean, he went through and touched on every single one, with the exception of maybe women’s rights, which is a (inaudible) something else. He basically went through the whole list of all her pet causes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I think what we will do is we’ll have a more fulsome review of all the atmospherics of the day at the end of the day. I just wanted to make sure that you knew that – the subjects that he had touched on, the subjects that she had touched on, and how the – sort of the meeting laid out.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you think that he hit all the right notes here?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, remember that this visit doesn’t come out of the blue. It comes after a number of efforts at lower levels. Kurt Campbell’s been here three or four times that we’ve met. We met, obviously, at the – at his level in Hawaii; we met in Bali; Mike Posner has been here; Derek Mitchell has been here, I think, three times. So this is a dialogue that’s been ongoing.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) asking if you if he hit all the right – touched on all the right subjects.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you can tell, they – he expressed --

QUESTION: It’s really just I’m asking about --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- their work program. He expressed their work program in the political-economic --

QUESTION: And (inaudible) touch on all the right subjects for you guys?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I’m not – we’ll have more to sort of give you a characterization after the day is over.

QUESTION: Is there (inaudible) other meetings? The parliament or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have to say that I left as the parliament meeting was starting. If you saw the pictures, it was notable that there were lots of different ethnic groups represented in that first parliamentary meeting.

Okay, guys.

PRN: 2011/T56-06