Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Message to President Obama

The Irrawaddy recently spoke with Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, about the implications of an Obama presidency for future US policy on Burma.

Question: What is your message to President Obama?

Answer: I want President Obama to uphold the existing economic sanctions on the Burmese military regime and lead a strong diplomatic effort to organize the international community to put collective pressure on the regime. Instead of divided responses, what we need importantly from the international community is to speak with one voice to the generals and I believe President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US Permanent Representative to the UN Dr Susan Rice will be able to make this happen. As the first step, we want President Obama to appoint someone whom we can trust and rely on to be his Special Envoy on Burma, as authorized by the Tom Lantos Block Burma Jade Act of 2008, and get Senate confirmation as soon as possible.

Q: What can you realistically expect the incoming administration to do on Burma? Do you think the policy will be more or less the same as Bush’s? Or will there be more engagement inside Burma, or even dialogue with the regime?

A: President-elect Obama and Secretary of State-designate Clinton have been among the strong supporters of Burma’s democracy movement since their Senate years. I expect they will continue to place significant pressure on the regime for the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the realization of a meaningful and time-bound dialogue between the regime and democracy forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I also expect that they will be able to organize the international community to stand together for the people of Burma and speak with one voice to the generals in Burma.

Q: What do you think of the efforts of George Bush and former first lady Laura Bush on Burma?

A: President Bush and the first lady have done their best for the people of Burma. They were both personally involved in Burma and have made Burma a higher US foreign policy priority. Even in the last days of his administration, President Bush and the first lady have put Burma in the international spotlight again and again and set a precedent for the next administration. We owe them a lot. I still believe that they will continue to be with us even they leave office.

Q: What do you think about Michael Green’s appointment as a special envoy on Burma?

A: I respect Dr Mike Green and I really want him to be the US Special Coordinator for Burma. I expect President Obama will continue to nominate him for the job when he takes office on January 20.

Q: We all know Burma won’t be a top priority, as there are many pressing issues ahead—Afghanistan, North Korea, Darfur, Iraq and of course Pakistan. Do you have any concerns that the new administration will not be able to adequately address the Burma issue?

A: It is true that Obama will be occupied with many pressing issues. We will continue to work with the Congress to remind him of the situation of the people of Burma. We still enjoy strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. I believe the Congress will help us to put Burma on Obama’s foreign policy priority sooner or later.

Q: If Burma faces another major event like the Saffron Revolution, do you think the Burmese people will look to the US administration for support?

A: It is usual for any non-violent movement to expect international support in their peaceful struggle against brutal dictators. International support for the people of Burma and international pressure on the Burmese junta will continue to be a major factor to strengthen and empower democratic forces inside Burma. The United States will continue to play a leading role in the international community for both supporting Burmese democrats and pressuring the junta.

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