Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Meetings in Burma

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Rangoon, Burma
December 2, 2011

MODERATOR: We are in Rangoon. The Secretary has had a full day of meetings today with Aung San Suu Kyi, with representatives of civil societies of the ethnic minority groups, and we thought we’d just give you a sense of how some of those went, with [Senior State Department Official], hereafter known as Senior State Department Official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks, [Moderator]. And just to give you – we had a chance to talk to the Secretary a little bit this morning about last night. She had about a three-hour dinner last night with Aung San Suu Kyi, and they went through really a broad range of issues. I think as you saw in her public statement, Daw Suu was very welcoming of the Secretary’s visit. She had already heard a substantial amount back from Nay Pyi Taw, shared that with the Secretary, gave the Secretary some specific areas where she’d like to see the United States continuously and perhaps increasingly engaged on technical assistance issues, education. Rule of law is a big issue for her, and she thought it was extraordinarily important.

She talked about efforts and strategies for how to get the international observers into the ethnic areas that are suffering from really serious conflict, and also talked about strategies for how a minority group within a legislator can – legislation –

MODERATOR: Legislature.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Legislature – sorry, guys, a little tired – can interact and deal with a dominant group.

This morning, we continued those conversations with her directly. We talked about some specific programs. She made clear that she knew that there was opposition in the United States to engagement, but she made the point that it was important for people outside the country to listen to voices inside the country. And one of the things that we’ve heard, frankly, from all of our conversations this morning with ethnic minority groups and also with a very broad range of people from civil society is a broad desire to have the United States engaged in a range of issues, and so we talked a little bit about that going forward.

After about an hour meeting with her and our team, she brought in some of the senior members of her executive council on the National League of Democracy. The interesting -- Tin Oo was – is her number two. He was a longstanding head of the military. He was put in prison for a substantial period and has served as her loyal number two for years. He made a presentation to Secretary Clinton. She also had a number of other ethnic groups that work closely with the NLD. She had a chance to introduce the Secretary to those.

After that, the public statement, you all get a sense of how – I think real warmth developed. I think they saw some very familiar things in the other, and I think the beginning of a warm friendship was started here today and last night.

I think subsequently, we had a meeting with ethnic minority groups from around the country, very detailed discussions about conditions on the ground. The Secretary rolled out very clearly the idea that if, in fact, there was a serious effort at national dialogue – and that will require not only efforts from the central government but also from some of the ethnic groups that have been reluctant in some respects to engage. If we can figure out a – if they can figure out a way forward, the Secretary underscored that the United States would be prepared to support an external Friends of Burma group, if you will, that would provide and bring together substantial resources to the table to support autonomy and the like.

She just concluded a meeting with civil society representatives. Many of these people have had substantial periods in prison. Their stories are both simultaneously inspirational and tragic. What was interesting is, even among this group, a very strong welcome for her and for increasing American engagement and technical assistance in education, every aspect of help one can imagine.

I think the Secretary feels very pleased that she’s participated in the beginning of a conversation. She hasn’t been able to talk to everyone, but she’s gotten a very good sense about developments on the ground. I think she’s both impressed deeply by the spirit and courage of the people, their talents, but also deeply cognizant of some of the challenges that they’re facing.

MODERATOR: Why don’t you go through the four initiatives that the Secretary will announce at her press conference?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Okay. She will go into some detail to talk about the specifics associated with our microfinance and microcredit initiative, which will be aimed particularly at healthcare and other rural development needs. She will talk in some detail – we talked about this last night – about the English education program that will be run out of the East-West Center. The program that we will be running through what is called the Humpty Dumpty Institute – pardon the name – but is actually very impressive in terms of the work that it does for landmine victims and education associated with particularly children in avoiding landmines, and that is very much welcomed by some of the ethnic groups in our sessions this morning.

Also, we are working with a series of American institutions, particularly Johns Hopkins University, and others on how to increase both medical exchanges, and also training of key components inside Burmese society, diplomats and the like.

Why don’t I stop there? I can tell – I know you’re going to be talking to the Secretary in a moment, but if there are any particular questions, I can help more on background in terms of, like, what transpired.

QUESTION: Characterize the day’s talks.


QUESTION: Between the two ladies.

MODERATOR: Why don’t we let her characterize it when she’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. But very productive; very, very detailed.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: I’m looking for more an emotional assessment. I mean, the embrace after their statements said something. I wonder what it said about the talks they had.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, look, I would leave it to her to describe, but – no, let me say one thing as an observer, okay? I – look, it’s very clear that these two women have played historic roles in each of their lives. And they meet and there’s clearly a sharing and a connection, and it’s just undeniable. So I’ll just – but I’ll let her describe it. But observing it, it is very obvious as they’re interacting with one another. And the conversations today that we were experiencing was as if they’d been working closely together for a very long period of time.

QUESTION: On the ethnic issue and the sort of cessation of ethnic hostilities --


QUESTION: I was wondering if, firstly, can you just give us a sense of what the U.S. is looking for specifically soon to happen? I mean, you talk about how difficult it will be.


QUESTION: But is the getting monitors in there, ICRC or whatever --


QUESTION: Is that a key point that they might be able to deliver on? And what are the carrots that we could even possibly use for the ethnic groups that aren’t wanting to engage?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, we are getting some signals that the government is considering allowing international groups and other UN agencies access to some of these areas. There are problems, though. Some of them are so dangerous, they’re, frankly, worried about the safety. But there is a dialogue that’s beginning. We would support that. So I think these situations are so difficult, so complex, we believe that one of the most important steps that can be taken is simply a much more thoroughgoing ceasefire. Right? And I think how to put that in place is what is being discussed now.

The second, really, is to get much more international focus and attention on the ground to what’s transpiring. In many respects, we are left trying to sift through incomplete reports and unclear validity of reports and other kinds of developments on the ground. We’re trying to get a much clearer sense of what’s transpiring there, and working with the surrounding neighbors as well.

QUESTION: Can I just ask for a clarification on that --


QUESTION: -- because when you say what is exactly is happening, is it the impression by the government of these groups or the groups turning into rebel groups and attacking the government?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, it’s so different in each circumstance but, I mean, perhaps when we get on the plane, I’d be happy to lay out – about – a little over 50 percent of the country, as you all know, is Burman. But there are a substantial number, mostly along the border areas – China, India, Thailand – of substantial minority areas, all with – extraordinarily distinct. Like when we were meeting with the groups today, I was struck by some spoke Chinese, some spoke – some were much closer to Himalayan in descent and others very close to Thai. So it’s an incredibly diverse group of people that the Secretary had a chance to interact with. And some of the problems are between the groups, some of the problems are – for instance, in the Kachin area, there are a number of organizations that are vying for influence there. I think, though, they could all agree that their primary problem is with the government.

QUESTION: Can you – is there any way to quantify at all these four, what the dollar amount would be for these four things?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We can, and I think one of the things that we can get you on the airplane is the exact breakdown on --

QUESTION: Can we do that, so that we can write it?

MODERATOR: We’re not talking about big money. Yeah. [Senior Administration Official] and I talked about it earlier. We’re talking about $1 million for this first one. Right, [Senior State Department Official]?

SEINIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Microcredit – that’s right.

MODERATOR: Yeah. Microcredit. The second one, it’s not our money; it’s Bruneinian money. $25 million went into the whole initiative, of which $5 million will come to --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Five to eight will go to – will go here.

MODERATOR: Will come here.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, how much is it?

MODERATOR: It’s 5 million, but not American money. It’s Bruneinian money.

QUESTION: So what’s the – what do you mean, the number two?

MODERATOR: Number two, 25 --

QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) say, "We will launch," then ?


QUESTION: Brunei will launch.


MODERATOR: Brunei will pay for it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ve worked with them, and they are going to work with the – we’ve worked with the East-West Center in a partnership.

QUESTION: Well, that's a stretch. And number three, what was that? Landmines?

MODERATOR: This is more about, what would you say, 200,000 for landmines?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, but ultimately, we think this will build to about 800 million.

QUESTION: 800 million?


MODERATOR: 800,000, so it’s 200,000 now and it’ll grow. And then this last one, we’re not sure about American money yet, right?


MODERATOR: This is the – the fourth one is – we’re – it’s still in the conversation phase.

QUESTION: So in terms of U.S. money --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) of the aid that we have now?


QUESTION: How much aid do we provide now? Is this a significant increase, or an opening of --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, the total amount is --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- 30 -- $40 million a year.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. And some of that – and one of the things that we will be looking to do going forward is to see how some of this can be perhaps programmed for different missions as well.

The amount of money that comes into Burma is actually quite substantial, compared to the other problems that we face. But because there’s such strong support on Capitol Hill for many of these initiatives, we think that it will continue even in a period where there are budget problems.

QUESTION: But in terms of what you --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Steve, Steve, hold on. I just – can we try and just get a total for – 1.2 --

MODERATOR: 1.2 in new money.

QUESTION: New American – U.S money.

MODERATOR: And then some look at the existing money to make it more targeted towards the initiatives that have broad-based support here.

QUESTION: And the East-West Center is completely money from Brunei?


STAFF: Is this wrapping?


STAFF: So I think we need to move you guys in there, sort of as soon as you can and --

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, guys.

PRN: 2011/T56-11