White House: must make sure Myanmar sanctions not preventing investment

White House: must make sure Myanmar sanctions not preventing investment

By Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom | WASHINGTON

President Barack Obama will consult with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday about U.S. sanctions policy and how it is affecting investment and the democratic transition in her country, the White House said.

The United States eased some sanctions against Myanmar earlier this year to support political reform but maintained most of its economic restrictions with an eye toward penalizing those it views as hampering the democratically elected government.

“We want to make sure our sanctions are not preventing the type of economic development and investment” that would help the people of Myanmar, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told a conference on Tuesday ahead of Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington.

“We want to get her thinking on what we can do that is most effective in promoting the democratic transition and promoting greater economic growth,” he said.

Rhodes listed several areas of concern in Myanmar, also known as Burma, that needed to be addressed, including constitutional reform.

Waiting for all of those problems to be resolved could mean the sanctions would not be lifted for another decade, he said.

Rhodes noted U.S. officials often are told that the sanctions have a chilling effect on investment from the international business community.

He said decisions on lifting sanctions would seek to balance the need to show that more work needs to be done while also giving credit to Myanmar’s democratic progress.

“That’s the balance that we’re aiming to strike: how do we demonstrate through our sanctions policies and other restrictions on engagement that this process is not complete?” he said. “But how do we also not set an impossible standard that is going to take so long that we are essentially denying the type of dividend that is going to be necessary for ensuring that democratization succeeds?”

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, meets with Obama at the White House on Wednesday in what is likely to be their last meeting of his presidency.

She is barred from holding Myanmar’s presidency by a junta-drafted constitution but holds several government posts including state counselor and foreign minister.

Suu Kyi helped persuade the West to impose sanctions during her years as an opposition leader under house arrest. Now she is seeking to balance illustrating the economic rewards of a democratic transition while keeping pressure on her country’s still powerful generals for more reform.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

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