Is Burma unclenching its fist?

Burma is sounding positively gleeful today about talks with the United States, after Stephen Blake, director at the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department, made a rare visit to the country this week. The New Light, an official state newspaper, reported “cordial discussions [between the two parties] on issues of mutual interest ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
587395_090327_thanshwe2.jpg
587395_090327_thanshwe2.jpg
Myanmar's junta chief Than Shwe salutes a guard of honour from a poduim on Armed Forces Day in the administrative capital of Naypyidaw on March 27, 2009. Myanmar junta chief Than Shwe urged political parties to shun foreign ideologies if they want democracy as the military put on a show of might at its annual parade. AFP HOTO / Hla Hla Htay (Photo credit should read HLA HLA HTAY/AFP/Getty Images)

Burma is sounding positively gleeful today about talks with the United States, after Stephen Blake, director at the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department, made a rare visit to the country this week. The New Light, an official state newspaper, reported "cordial discussions [between the two parties] on issues of mutual interest and promotion of bilateral relations."

Is it a fist unclenching or one big diplomatic gaffe? Thing is, the U.S. State Department remembers the meeting a little differently, saying that the visit was routine and certainly indicates no change on Burma policy. Despite the policy review underway in Washington, the sanctions, the human rights record criticism, and the cold shoulder on aid are not likely to disappear anytime soon. 

Nor does the military regime show any real signs of changing tack. Senior Gen. Than Shwe set guidelines for a 2010 election today -- a poll in which the opposition is barred from taking part. "Some parties look to foreign countries for guidance and inspiration, follow the imported ideologies and directives irrationally," the general explained.

Burma is sounding positively gleeful today about talks with the United States, after Stephen Blake, director at the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department, made a rare visit to the country this week. The New Light, an official state newspaper, reported “cordial discussions [between the two parties] on issues of mutual interest and promotion of bilateral relations.”

Is it a fist unclenching or one big diplomatic gaffe? Thing is, the U.S. State Department remembers the meeting a little differently, saying that the visit was routine and certainly indicates no change on Burma policy. Despite the policy review underway in Washington, the sanctions, the human rights record criticism, and the cold shoulder on aid are not likely to disappear anytime soon. 

Nor does the military regime show any real signs of changing tack. Senior Gen. Than Shwe set guidelines for a 2010 election today — a poll in which the opposition is barred from taking part. “Some parties look to foreign countries for guidance and inspiration, follow the imported ideologies and directives irrationally,” the general explained.

So perhaps at best, the Burma dealings really are routine. As the junta calls for talks and condemns foreign powers all in one breath, it’s becoming frighteningly clear just how out of touch the country’s leadership is. Unfortuantely for Burma, no news there.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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