WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will discuss possible further relief of U.S. sanctions on Myanmar when the de facto leader of the nation’s new civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi, visits Wednesday, a White House official said.
The U.S. has rolled back economic sanctions on Myanmar since political reforms began five years ago but still restricts dealings with military-owned companies and dozens of officials and associates of the former ruling junta.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Tuesday the administration is considering further moves to encourage more U.S. investment in the country also known as Burma, but he said Obama wants to consult with Suu Kyi.
She spent years under house arrest during when the military was in power. Her National League for Democracy party swept elections last November, and she now controls the civilian government, although a junta-era constitution still bars her from holding the presidency, a position held by a close ally.
Rhodes said U.S. wants to balance concerns about the continuing “outsized” role of the military in politics and the economy with the need to support economic development and show there’s a “dividend” from the democratic transition.
“We hear frequently that the ongoing sanctions regime serves as a chill on investment from the United States and in some cases from other international firms, and so we want to make sure that our sanctions are not preventing the type of economic development and investment that we believe can improve the livelihoods of the people of Burma,” Rhodes told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
“In this discussion and in these decisions we want to be guided by consultation with Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD-led government,” he said.
Suu Kyi arrives Tuesday in Washington. She will also be meeting with lawmakers, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. She last visited in 2012 when she was still opposition leader.
U.S. support for the shift from five decades of direct military rule in Myanmar is viewed by the Obama administration as a significant foreign policy achievement. Human rights groups, however, say continuing military abuses in ethnic minority regions and discrimination against Rohingya Muslims are powerful reasons for retaining sanctions.
Rhodes said there’s “no scenario” under which all restrictions would be lifted. He said that at the very least, the U.S. will retain restrictions for some time on the military, which retains a quarter of parliamentary seats and control of key government ministries.