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US Says Action by Neighbors Critical to Forcing Change in Burma

01 October 2007

The United States said Monday action by Burma's Asian neighbors is critically needed to force that country's military leaders to end their crackdown on dissent and allow political reform. They say options for further U.S. sanctions are limited. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here do not rule out additional punitive U.S. measures against the military leaders in Rangoon.

But they say remaining options are limited and that the real leverage on Burma rests with neighboring India, China and the country's fellow members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

A 2003 law from the U.S. Congress banned imports of Burmese goods, while an accompanying executive order by President Bush froze U.S. assets of senior Burmese officials and forbids most remittances home by Burmese living in the United States.

Last week in response to the latest political upheaval in Burma, Mr. Bush expanded the asset freeze and barred U.S. visas for some 30 Burmese officials linked to human rights violations.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said officials are examining what further punitive steps can be taken. But he said the United States by itself is not going to be able to force the Burmese government to change its ways, and that the neighbors of that country hold the key:

"That's why it's critical that the countries that have the most influence in Burma right now, including the Chinese, the Indians and the ASEAN nations engage in a serious effort with us to change their behavior," said Tom Casey. "Certainly we'd like to see them use what levers are at their command to be able to put pressure on the Burmese government, because I don't think it's any surprise that sanctions of and by themselves have not led to a specific change in behavior that we'd all like to see."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealed to Burma's neighbors for action in bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last week in New York. The White House said Monday that Bush deputy national security adviser Jim Jeffrey would meet Chinese ambassador to Washington Zhou Wenzhong to discuss cooperation on the crisis.

The State Department said Chinese pressure was at least in part responsible for the Burmese government's decision to allow a visit by U.N. special envoy for Burma Ibrahim Gambari.

Officials here said they were pleased that the Nigerian diplomat was able to meet with detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and said it is important that he be able to see all those with whom he has sought meetings.

Spokesman Casey said U.S. officials would await Gambari's return and briefing to the U.N. Security Council before deciding next steps.

He side-stepped a question on whether the United States might revive an effort to have the Security Council demand the release of all Burmese political prisoners and speed a transition to democracy.

A U.S.-sponsored resolution to that effect was vetoed by both China and Russia last January.

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