US restores diplomatic relations with Burma after prisoner release

The United States on Friday renewed full diplomatic relations with Burma after a two-decade hiatus.

This is a lengthy process, and it will of course depend on continuing progress and reform, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in the Treaty Room at the State Department headquarters. But an American ambassador will help strengthen our efforts to support the historic and promising steps that are now unfolding.

Calling it a momentous day, Clinton said State will consult with Congress and President Obama before picking a nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Burma.

We will identify a candidate to serve as U.S. ambassador to represent the United States government and our broader efforts to strengthen and deepen our ties with both the people and the government, she said.

The news follows the release of 651 prisoners of conscience earlier Friday, and other reforms in the wake of Clintons visit to the country last month, the first by a secretary of State since 1955. 

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The United States downgraded its diplomatic representation in Burma to a chargé d'affaires of lesser rank than an ambassador in 1988 following a crackdown on political opponents. Relations further deteriorated two years later when the countrys military junta refused to recognize the results of parliamentary elections won by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyis National League for Democracy. 

This is a momentous day for the diverse people of Burma, and we will continue to support them and their efforts and to encourage the government to take bold steps that build the kind of free and prosperous nation, that I heard from everyone I met with, they desire to see, Clinton said.

Obama praised the prisoners’ release in a statement shortly before Clintons announcement, calling it a substantial step forward for democratic reform in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Since Clintons visit, the president said, there have been a number of positive developments, including the announcement of elections to be held on April 1, and the decision to allow Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to participate.

There has also been an important ceasefire agreement reached with the Karen National Union, which the United States welcomes,” he said.

Today, I applaud President Thein Seins decision to release hundreds of prisoners of conscience, which is a crucial step in Burmas democratic transformation and national reconciliation process. Im pleased that Aung San Suu Kyi has welcomed this step as she continues to pursue a dialogue with the government. I urge the government to ensure that these and all other former political prisoners are allowed to participate fully and freely in the political process, particularly the upcoming by-elections, and to free all remaining prisoners of conscience.

Separately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Thursday that he would be visiting Burma for several days starting Sunday. He is scheduled to meet with Suu Kyi, Burmese government officials and U.S. Embassy personnel.

— This story was last updated at 1:35 p.m.

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