U.S. to lift sanctions ‘soon’ in Myanmar, Obama says
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. is lifting economic sanctions and restoring trade benefits to former pariah state Myanmar as he met with Aung San Suu Kyi, a one-time political prisoner who is now the nation’s de facto leader.
Obama hailed a “remarkable” transformation in the country, also known as Burma, which spent five decades under oppressive military rule.
Suu Kyi’s party swept historic elections last November, and the visit by the 71-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, deeply respected in Washington, is a crowning occasion in the Obama administration’s support for Myanmar’s shift to democracy, which the administration views as a major foreign policy achievement.
The U.S. has eased broad economic sanctions since political reforms began five years ago and Obama has visited the country twice. But the U.S. has retained more targeted restrictions on military-owned companies and officials and associates of the former ruling junta.
U.S. firms and banks have remained leery of involvement in one of Asia’s last untapped markets.
“The United States is now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed on Burma for quite some time,” Obama said as he sat alongside Suu Kyi in the Oval Office. He said it was “the right thing to do” to ensure Myanmar benefits from its transition.
Asked by a reporter when sanctions would be lifted, Obama said “soon.”
Suu Kyi concurred it was time to remove all the sanctions that had hurt the economy. She urged Americans to come to the country and “to make profits.”
Congressional aides said that Suu Kyi requested the removal of the national emergency with respect to Myanmar — the executive order authorizing sanctions that has been renewed annually by U.S. presidents for two decades.
The Treasury Department said that Obama’s decision will be legally effective when he issues a new executive order to terminate the emergency.
A U.S. official said that 111 Myanmar individuals and companies will be dropped from a Treasury blacklist and restrictions will be lifted on new investment with military and on the imports of rubies and jade.
But penalties intended to block the drug trade and to bar military trade with North Korea would still apply, as would a visa ban barring some former and current members of the military from traveling to the United States.
The official and aides spoke on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hailed the announcement as “historic.” But human rights groups say there are reasons for retaining sanctions. Military abuses continue in ethnic minority regions and Rohingya Muslims remain displaced by sectarian violence and denied citizenship.
Aung San Suu Kyi and President Barack Obama chat Wednesday in the Oval Office.