In a statement released on Monday, President Obama said he has decided to halt new U.S. sanctions against Burma. This decision, he said, was made after “further discussions” with officials from the Burmese government. According to the statement, Obama remains committed to bringing former military generals to justice for alleged human rights abuses.
The statement was released just hours after Obama’s counterpart, President Thein Sein, announced an agreement in principle on a cease-fire in the ethnic conflict that has raged in Karen state since 2007. The deal was reached after high-level talks in Thailand.
The statement further confirmed that after extensive discussions, “the government of Burma has agreed to move towards free and fair elections, including international supervision, by the end of this year, with the first free and fair elections in more than 20 years to be held next year.”
Thein Sein made these concessions without U.S. sanctions, and even though he has not yet lifted those sanctions.
Obama’s statement, apparently, was the moment when Obama lost the election, and not during the campaign.
To be fair, Thein Sein had asked Obama to lift sanctions before the election. In a letter to Obama on Aug. 26, he asked the President to “keep in mind the political transition process in Burma and support our efforts to promote and strengthen a free, fair, and transparent electoral process.”
He also said that this letter was sent before he was asked to be a candidate in the 2012 election. In any case, Thein Sein has made a lot of concessions.
In his meeting with Obama on Monday, Thein Sein said he is willing to “accept the resolution” of the conflict in Karen state without the threat of force, and in return “the [Burmese] government will be ready to review the sanctions and maintain a good relationship with the United States.”
Obama was impressed and surprised.
Thein Sein told Obama that the cease-fire deal would not have been possible without the willingness of the ethnic groups to come together.
“The progress of the last few months is the fruit of the hard work of the political parties and civil society and the people who took up arms against the state,” he said.
At his news conference on Monday, Obama described Burma’s political transition process as “a profound moment in the history of a nation.”
Obama has been pro-democracy for decades. In 2006, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She now lives in Sweden, under house arrest.
For Obama, the deal is a victory not only for Burm 0b46394aab