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Tentative Steps On US Relations With Burma Need North Korea Military Link To End

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After her first meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, in Rangoon, Burma, US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke about recent US interaction with Burma.

Mrs Clinton said it was an "extraordinary personal privilege" to meet Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time, and although it was their first meeting, "I felt like I had known her for years".

Mrs Clinton said she deeply admires and appreciates everything Aung San Suu Kyi has done over the years to stand steadfastly for democracy and freedom, and to be someone who people in her country look up to, because she has their best interests at heart.

aung san suu kyi
Aung Sun Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy at her home near Rangoon, Burma, 10 November, 2011.
Photo: World Economic Forum
Over two and a half years ago, Secretary Clinton requested a review of US-Burma policy. During this time, there have been more than 20 high-level visits from the assistant secretary, the special representative and others, meeting many people throughout Burma. Secretary Clinton said the US Embassy "has been deeply consulting with people."

Secretary Clinton made it clear that a closer relationship with the US will not proceed while the country maintains a military relationship with North Korea. She intimated that ending the military relationship with North Korea would not only allow the relationship with the US, but it could allow a relationship with South Korea to develop, which would give them access to development assistance.

Here is the transcript of the interview with CNN's Jill Dougherty, in Rangoon.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for taking time out. This is a busy trip, historic, really. I wanted to start with Aung San Suu Kyi. I would like to know what it was like to see her face to face. There was obviously a lot of chemistry between you. But I also wanted to ask: Right now, is American policy too focused on her? Dare I say does she have a veto on U.S. policy toward Myanmar?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, let me start by saying that it was just an extraordinary personal privilege for me finally to meet her. I felt like I had known her for years because of all of the information that I had about her and the interactions that friends of mine had with her who carried messages back and forth, and I just really felt like it was meeting an old friend, even though it was our first time. And I deeply admire and appreciate everything that she's done over the years to stand steadfastly for democracy and freedom and to be someone who people in her country look up to and know that she has their best interests at heart, and they want to follow her because of that.

She is someone who we talk to and rely on about policy advice, and certainly we were very gratified that she encouraged us to engage, encouraged my trip, as she said publicly today, thought that we were proceeding appropriately, cautiously to determine whether or not these reforms were for real.

But she's not the only person we talk to. For the past two and a half years, ever since I asked that we do a review of our Burma policy, because I didn't think we were making the kind of progress we all had hoped to for the people here, we've had about 20 or more high-level visits from our assistant secretary, our special representative and others. They have fanned out across the country meeting with all kinds of people. Our Embassy here has been deeply consulting with people.

So of course we highly respect the opinions of Aung San Suu Kyi, for all the obvious reasons, but this was a consensus that developed that there was a great desire to encourage this reform and to validate the reformers so that they would feel acknowledged in the outside world and, frankly, encouraged to go even further.

QUESTION: You've talked a lot about political reform, but then you have, of course, mentioned economic reform. And one of the key issues there is that the military controls a lot of the economy. Are you convinced that this government is sincere in wanting to really restructure, reform, invite investment from the outside, which could threaten the military?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can only report on what they asked me. They asked that I personally follow through on a request for the World Bank to send an assessment team, that we try to offer technical advice about how they can and should reform their economy. There are a lot of vested interests. You always find that when you move from an authoritarian regime to a more open one. But we've seen it work elsewhere. There does have to be a lot of changes in the economy here. They need exchange rate reform. There's all kinds of basic questions they have to answer. So again, we're at the very beginning. Where we'll be in one year, five years, or ten, I can't sit here and predict. But there was a great desire on the part of the leadership in Nay Pyi Taw to have assistance in reforming the economy, and we will encourage that.

QUESTION: And I know we don't have a lot of time, but just very briefly, North Korea, big issue here. What is your understanding in brief about what Myanmar was/is doing with North Korea in terms of nuclear or missile technology?

SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, there has been a military-to-military relationship in the past around missile technology in particular. But we've been pressing very hard on that, and we had a receptive audience yesterday in talking about the need to end that relationship if the country expects, under this current government, to have any deeper engagement with us, politically or economically, or with South Korea, which has a great deal to offer in terms of development assistance and the like. So we've made it clear that it would be difficult for us to pursue our engagement unless that relationship was once and for all ended.

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