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Moving too fast on Burma: Obama breaks with Aung San Suu Kyi

Moving too fast on Burma: Obama breaks with Aung San Suu Kyi

The Obama administration’s decision to lift the U.S. investment ban on Burma is the first time Washington has publicly broken with the country’s democratic opposition since Burma’s fragile but consequential political opening began several years ago. The United States has correctly encouraged that opening through a graduated policy of engagement that has rewarded Burma’s progress but retained leverage to incentivize further reform over time. This was in keeping with the advice of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate whose party won over 95 percent of open parliamentary seats in elections earlier this year. Given that Burma remains controlled by a military regime in civilian clothing that continues to war against ethnic minorities and retains firm control over the economy and politics, Suu Kyi had urged a measured pace of international engagement that did not succumb to what she described as "reckless optimism" about a country that still has a long way to go on the road to democracy.

An oped I co-authored today in the Washington Post argues that Washington’s decision to fully repeal the ban in U.S. investment in Burma, without carve-outs for energy or other economic sectors essentially controlled by the military, goes too far, too fast. In the U.S. Senate, John McCain and Joe Lieberman argued the same point in a July 3 letter to Secretary of State Clinton. Until now, the Obama administration had been smart in pursuing a pace of engagement on Burma that sustained consensus on the policy with Capitol Hill and Burma’s democratic opposition. That consensus has been broken, as Josh Rogin authoritatively reported for The Cable. This will make deeper engagement with Burma harder to sustain should the country suffer a political reversal — a not unlikely scenario given cleavages within its regime about the pace and scale of reform