In a bid to incentivize nascent reform in Burma, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday the United States will ease sanctions on the Southeast Asian country that have been in place for over twenty years.
The announced easing "will allow U.S. companies to responsibly do business in Burma," Obama said, adding, "responsible investment will help facilitate broad-based economic development, and help bring Burma out of isolation and in to the international community."
The changes made today effect sanctions mandated under section 570(b) of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 1997. This section prohibits new investment in Burma by U.S. persons and U.S. persons' facilitation of new investment in Burma by foreign persons.
However, the president also indicated that he signed an executive order today expanding the Treasury Department's ability to sanction those in Burma who "undermine the reform process, engage in human rights abuses, contribute to ethnic conflict, or participate in military trade with North Korea."
Burma, also known as Myanmar, has made great strides toward democracy in recent months, including holding free elections to elect a parliament, freeing political prisoners and conducting talks with ethnic rebel groups present in the countryside.
One notable stride was the release from house arrest of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a seat in parliament during the recent elections. She has now been able to travel freely within the country and abroad, finally accepting a Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded over 20 years ago.
However, the Obama administration acknowledges much remains to be done.
"Such reform is fragile," the executive order states, adding continued detention of political prisoners, obstruction of the political and peace processes, military trade with North Korea and human rights abuses "constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."
U.S. based sanctions were enacted after 1988, when then President Ronald Reagan responded to violent government crackdowns on peaceful protesters by suspending all American aid to Burma, including counternarcotics programs, and stopping all arms sales.
Via five laws and four presidential decrees, U.S. sanctions on Burma up until today included "visa bans, restrictions on financial services, prohibitions of Burmese imported goods, a ban on new investments in Burma, and constraints on U.S. assistance to Burma," according to a February 2012 Congressional Research Service report.
While the rest of the sanctions remain in place, the U.S. continues to strengthen ties with the new democracy. The sanctions easing Wednesday came the same day Derek Mitchell, the first U.S. Ambassador to Burma in 22 years, arrived in country.
"Americans for decades have stood with the Burmese people in their struggle to realize the full promise of their extraordinary country," Obama said. "In all that we do, we are committed to working with the people of Burma as they shape a future of greater freedom and prosperity future, and continue their national reconciliation and democratic transition."
by RTT Staff Writer
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