Obama suspends sanctions on Burma, nominates ambassador

President Obama on Thursday announced his nominee to be ambassador to Burma, completing the full renewal of diplomatic ties that had been largely frozen for two decades.

Simultaneously, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a conditional suspension of sanctions that were imposed after a 1988 crackdown on political opponents. Thursday's decision keeps the sanctions architecture on the books but allows the administration some of them effective immediately.

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“Maintaining this suspension of sanctions, or easing sanctions further, will depend on greater progress by the Burmese government," Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a joint statement applauding Thursday's decision. "We will continue to press for an end to Burma’s military ties with North Korea; for the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners; for an end to violence and oppression against the Kachin and other ethnic minority communities in Burma; and for additional democratic, economic, and constitutional reforms as determined by the Burmese people and their elected representatives."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the administration's intent to nominate an ambassador in January after Burma, also known as Myanmar, released several hundred prisoners of conscience in the wake of Clinton's visit to the country. 

“This is a lengthy process, and it will of course depend on continuing progress and reform,” Clinton said at the time. “But an American ambassador will help strengthen our efforts to support the historic and promising steps that are now unfolding.”

The nominee is Derek Mitchell, currently the special representative and policy coordinator for Burma at the Department of State.

Below is the White House's full statement on Mitchell's nomination:

Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell, Nominee for Ambassador to the Union of Burma, Department of State

Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell is Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, with the rank of Ambassador, having been appointed by President Obama in August 2011. Previously, he served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. 

Before joining the Administration in 2009, Ambassador Mitchell served as Senior Fellow and Director for Asia in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  He concurrently served as founding Director of the CSIS Southeast Asia Initiative, which was inaugurated in 2008. From 1997 to 2001, Ambassador Mitchell was Special Assistant for Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  

During this time, his roles included Senior Country Director for China, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Hong Kong (2000-2001), Director for Regional Security Affairs (1998-2000), Senior Country Director for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore (1998-1999), and Country Director for Japan (1997-1998).  Before joining the Department of Defense, he worked at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs as Senior Program Officer for Asia and the Former Soviet Union (1996-1997), and as Program Officer for Asia (1993-1996).  

He began his career as Assistant to the Senior Foreign Policy Adviser to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Ambassador Mitchell received a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.