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US Burma policy 'frozen' by N Korea allegations: Webb

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Following last week’s abrupt cancellation of his Burma trip, Senator Jim Webb has written an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking her to examine allegations by the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs that Burma had violated UN Resolution 1874, which bans North Korean overseas military shipments. 

webb-than-shwe2The veteran lawmaker, who has publicly advocated engagement with Burmese regime and last year met leader Senior General Than Shwe, admitted that Dr. Kurt Campbell’s allegations last month had “frozen any prospect of further engagement with the Burmese government”.  

Webb, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations East Asian and Pacific affairs subcommittee, also stated that prior to his departure for Asia he and his staff had “worked for weeks to seek public clarification” of Dr. Campbell’s allegation but that the State Department had yet to provide one. He disclosed that his staff were told by deputy assistant secretary Scot Marciel “that no other nation has joined the United States in publicly denouncing Burma” for violating UN Resolution 1874. 

In the letter dated Tuesday, June 8, Webb reiterated he had cancelled his visit to Burma “just hours” before he was to enter the country over the allegation by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that Than Shwe’s regime had sought North Korean assistance to develop a nuclear programme. Webb requested Clinton also examine this allegation.  

DVB’s explosive allegations were revealed in a documentary aired internationally by Qatar-based Al Jazeera’s international English language service and shown in the US on the ABC network. The documentary included interviews with senior Burmese scientist Sai Thein Win, who provided extensive documentation to support his claim that he had participated in Burma’s burgeoning missile and nuclear programmes.  

Until recently a major in the Burmese army, Sai Thein Win was trained at home in defence engineering and later in missile technology at the prestigious Bauman Moscow State Technical University in Russia. He returned to Burma to work in special factories, built to house modern European machining tools, to create prototypes for missile and nuclear activities.

Webb calls for appointment of Burma envoy

Webb also used the letter to call for the appointment of current US ambassador to Thailand Eric John as “American special representative and policy co-ordinator for Burma” in accordance with the Tom Lantos Block Burmese Jade (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008. Webb pointed out that the Jade Act required the president to work with the Senate to make such an appointment. 

Senator pans downgrade of Thai efforts against human trafficking

The letter also stated Webb’s stance on several other key issues that relate to his committee chairmanship, including his opposition to the recent announcement that the US State Department is to downgrade Thailand’s efforts against trafficking in persons from “Tier II” to the “Tier II Watch List”. In Webb’s words such a downgrade would have a negative impact on the kingdom because it “places the country at risk for sanctions on US assistance, primarily for democracy and human rights programmes. Such a downgrade would occur at a time when this type of aid is desperately needed to bolster political reforms in Thailand and to promote political stability”.

The full text of Webb’s letter is as follows:

June 8, 2010

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC  20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

In my capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, I visited Korea and Thailand last week to assess the current situation in both of those countries, as well as in the region.  I had also intended to visit Burma on this trip, but postponed my visit for reasons described below. 

Following meetings with government representatives, business and community leaders, U.S. diplomats, and others, I would like to share with you the following observations and recommendations.  As you will note, some of these recommendations are quite time-sensitive.

1. United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement:

I believe strongly that the United States, the Republic of Korea, and all of East Asia will benefit greatly from the implementation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA).  I am also very concerned about the time delay in gaining congressional approval for this agreement. 

The KORUS FTA was signed on June 30, 2007.  With this agreement, tariffs on consumer and industrial goods will be immediately eliminated on almost 95 percent of all bilateral trade within three years.  Tariffs on two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports will be immediately eliminated.  U.S. automakers have concerns, and processes exist for these matters to be addressed.  In sum, the advantages of implementing this agreement far outweigh any disadvantages, and failure to implement the agreement could have negative repercussions. 

Korea has used this agreement as a model for negotiating other free trade agreements, principally with the European Union (EU).  The EU-Korea FTA is expected to be signed in June and implemented by December.  If the United States does not take steps toward cementing its own agreement with Korea, our businesses could face significant market competition.  Just as importantly, such a failure could negatively affect East Asian views of how our country values this region. 

I hope you will call on the President to submit this agreement to Congress this year before the November elections, and I can assure you that I will do my part in the Senate to ensure that it is approved.

2. Democracy assistance to Thailand:

The State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report is due for release in mid-June.  The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok has reported that Thailand’s status will be downgraded from Tier II to the Tier II Watch List.  The Embassy disagrees with the merits of this assessment, and it also has concerns about the consequences of this placement. 

Downgrading Thailand to the Tier II Watch List places the country at risk for sanctions on U.S. assistance, primarily for democracy and human rights programs.  Such a downgrade would occur at a time when this type of aid is desperately needed to bolster political reforms in Thailand and to promote political stability.  Under current law a presidential waiver can be granted, but only after the sanctions have been announced.

I hope you will accept the advice and counsel of our embassy in Thailand, and reject in advance of the TIP report’s release any recommendation to downgrade the Thai government's status.  From what I am hearing regarding the timeliness issue, this would require immediate action by you and your staff. 

3. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874:

In May 2010, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell raised allegations that Burma has violated its commitment to UN Resolution 1874 regarding acceptance of shipments of military items from North Korea.  Although not explained in his statement, and not validated by subsequent information, news reports alleged that Burma received a shipment of arms from North Korea. This allegation, which from my understanding has yet to be publicly clarified and substantiated by the State Department, has frozen any prospect of further engagement with the Burmese government.

Prior to my recent Asia trip, I and my staff worked for weeks to seek public clarification of this allegation, but the State Department provided none.  At the time I left for my trip to Asia, no other countries had joined the United States in this allegation, although it had been discussed with several other countries.  The State Department still has not publicly clarified this matter.  My staff was told by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel that no other nation has joined the United States in publicly denouncing Burma on this matter.

As you know, only hours before I was scheduled to enter Burma, reports surfaced in the international media regarding new allegations that the military regime was cooperating with North Korea to develop a nuclear program.  These allegations were raised by the Democratic Voice of Burma, which is a U.S.-funded media organization.

As a consequence of these two allegations, I postponed my visit to Burma until such time as both of them can be examined objectively and factually.  I am now calling on you to do so, in a timely manner, so that our future relations with this country can proceed forward in a responsible way.

4. Special Envoy to Burma:

You will recall that the 2008 Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act requires the President to appoint a Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.   Among other responsibilities, this position should “promote a comprehensive international effort, including multilateral sanctions, direct dialogue with the SPDC and democracy advocates, and support for nongovernmental organizations operating in Burma and neighboring countries, designed to restore civilian democratic rule to Burma and address the urgent humanitarian needs of the Burmese people.”  Since this act has been in effect, the position has not been filled.

I hope you will ask the President to appoint a Special Envoy to Burma without delay.  In that regard, I would like to strongly recommend Ambassador Eric John, who currently serves in Thailand, for this position.  Ambassador John has spent many years in East Asia, and has long experience in dealing with the North Korean regime on issues that might be similar to those we will be facing in Burma. 

5. Increase East Asia Bureau Funding:

In April, I submitted an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act to increase funding to the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Bureau by $100 million.  The East Asia Bureau is consistently funded at lower levels than all other regional bureaus, despite its extensive population and its frequent political volatility.

The East Asia Bureau had the lowest FY11 request for overseas programs at $169 million.  Among foreign assistance accounts, Economic Support Funds (ESF) for East Asia are facing a decline from $177.9 million in FY10 to $61.3 million in FY11—a 65 percent reduction just as we see a growth in political instability and regional tensions.  As a comparison, FY09 and FY10, $4.8 billion was appropriated for Afghanistan ESF.  As of May 2010, a total of $2.06 billion from that appropriation remains unobligated.  These remaining funds are more than 30 times the ESF request for East Asia.

Also, the Department’s request for International Military Education and Training (IMET) in East Asia is the lowest of any region, with only $9.3 million.  This is a critical account for engaging the region’s military leaders through English language training, promoting trust and confidence, and strengthening relationships with our partners and allies.

I am gravely concerned that the lack of proper funding for these programs in the State Department places our relationships in Asia at risk.  For example, as Thailand recovers from recent political unrest and moves forward with reconciliation, it needs greater U.S. assistance and public support for the improvement of democratic institutions.  It is our responsibility as an ally of Thailand to ensure that it remains an open and stable society, and to help stem further political instability.  We can do so only when we properly fund our initiatives and provide our diplomats with the resources they need. 

I intend to seek greater funding for these programs in the FY11 appropriations process.  I would hope that you might support this initiative.  Further, as you develop your budget for FY12, I ask you to make funding of the East Asia Bureau a strategic priority for the Department and increase East Asia accounts by at least $100 million.  For my part, I will continue to seek through all available means the resources needed now for the Bureau.

In sum, despite all of this Administration’s rhetoric about re-engaging Asia, unless we properly resource diplomatic and foreign assistance programs, the United States will not be fulfilling this stated commitment to the region.  Moreover, our continued inaction is opening the door for other actors, namely China, to build influence.

Thank you for your consideration of these recommendations.  I look forward to your response and to working with you and the State Department to implement these initiatives. 


Jim Webb
United States Senator
Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 June 2010 17:20 )  

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