Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ramos-Horta urges Obama to embrace Burma

(SMH) - US President Barack Obama should seize on his global popularity and reach out to Burma and Cuba, which are ready to change if sanctions are lifted, East Timor's leader Jose Ramos-Horta said Wednesday.

Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful leadership that eventually ended Indonesian rule over the tiny territory, said that Obama had unprecedented opportunities.

The United States "today is in a unique situation to really mobilise international goodwill", Ramos-Horta said on a visit to Washington.

"I do not recall when in history there has been such an inspiring president - maybe only comparable to John F Kennedy, whose name will still linger in some of the remotest villages in my home country."

Ramos-Horta said Obama should seize on the goodwill by ending the sweeping US sanctions on Burma and Cuba - both of which he said are eager to talk to the new US leader.

Ramos-Horta voiced optimism over Burma, saying that among the world's hot spots "it is one of the easiest" to resolve. (JEG's: that is why it has been ONLY 46 years so easy-far)

"I know that the junta in Burma is desperate for changes and this is a unique opportunity for the US to engage them," he said.

Burma's military regime has kept opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the last 19 years. The US State Department in a report on Wednesday said the junta was "brutally" suppressing its people.

"When you look at the situation in Myanmar (Burma) or Cuba, when you punish a country for the perceived sin of the regime, the consequence is that you also have collateral damage among the people," Ramos-Horta said. (JEG's: what does Mr Ramos suggest we do then?... he points to a problem but the solution is? that is what we want to hear)

Ramos-Horta, a frequent visitor to Cuba, also said that the United States could heavily influence the communist island if it ended its nearly half-century trade embargo. (JEG's: No way Jose - only IF Cuba do not invite Russia and Chavez to the party)

"Cuba will change. It's inevitable. And better that it is a carefully managed change with US support," he said.

Obama has said he would talk with foreign leaders without conditions but has given few signals on what he will do with Cuba.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the new administration is reviewing policy toward Burma to find ways to better influence the regime and help the people.

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