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Webb: Burmese minister’s visit ‘appropriate time’ to lift sanctions

Sen. Jim Webb, whose historic trip to Burma in 2009 set the stage for a new direction in U.S. policy toward that country, today called the first official visit by the Burmese Foreign Minister to the United States an “appropriate time” for the Obama administration to lift economic sanctions on that country.

Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin is coming to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with senior leaders, including Sen. Webb.

“The President has the power to lift economic sanctions,” said Sen. Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee. “It is time for him to act.”

In 2009, Sen. Webb was the first American leader to visit Burma in more than 10 years, and remains the only American official ever to meet with General Than Shwe, the former leader of the country’s former military regime. During that visit, Senator Webb also met with Thein Sein, who now serves as President, and Aung San Suu Kyi, who at that time remained under house arrest.

Webb made his third visit to Burma in April, shortly after that country’s national parliamentary by-elections. He then chaired a subcommittee hearing on April 26, 2012—the second hearing he has chaired on U.S.-Burma relations—with senior officials from the Departments of Treasury and State and USAID, as well as outside experts, to provide a clearer understanding of the range of sanctions in place and the obstacles to removing them.

In response to questions raised at the April 26, 2012, subcommittee hearing, Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Adam Szubin testified that the main categories of sanctions imposed by statute or executive order can be lifted by the President via licenses, rescission of executive orders, or issuance of waivers on national security. He noted that executive decisions to remove sanctions can still target and blacklist the assets or activities of specific “bad actors” from the previous military junta so that they will not benefit from economic relations with the United States.

“The U.S. trade embargo with China was lifted 41 years ago, on the gamble that political reforms would follow economic change,” Webb said.  “Burma has taken the unusual step of making political advances ahead of economic change.  It is important to note that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, once a political prisoner, is now an elected official, and publicly announced her support for the European Union’s decision to suspend sanctions in response to democratic reforms in the country.  The process of reform in Burma is still far from complete, but the positive steps that have been taken should be met with a positive response from our own government.”

In a joint letter on May 4, 2012, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Webb, joined by subcommittee ranking member James Inhofe, first called for the administration to lift all sanctions immediately. The Senators warned against lifting sanctions sector by sector, noting that retaining sanctions on individual industries such as petroleum would be “a strategic mistake.”

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