US opens door to military ties with Burma

Military cooperation between the Pentagon and Burma, also known as Myanmar, is "certainly one of the areas in which we’ll consider taking further steps," Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told reporters Monday during a briefing in Tokyo. 

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"We’re considering a wide variety of ways in which we can support the process of change that’s under way, and to meet actions with actions," Burns said. 

"That includes the military-to-military sphere. And so we are considering steps that could be taken in that area as well," he added. 

Last November, top U.S. diplomats met with Burmese leaders to discuss possible military cooperation options between Washington and Naypyidaw. 

Those U.S.-Burmese talks were held in response to recent efforts by the country's military leadership to institute a number of democratic reforms within the country. 

Those reforms including holding democratic elections this year and the release of renowned human-rights activist and recently elected parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi.

"We want to see a continuation of the [democratic] process in all of [those] areas," Burns said. "We’ve been very clear that we will match actions with positive actions of our own," including military cooperation. 

Renewing military ties with Burma falls in line with the Pentagon's strategic focus on the Asia-Pacific region. 

DOD leaders, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, have repeatedly stated that new Asia-Pacific strategy would hinge upon expanded military cooperation efforts in the region. 

In September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped pave the way for DOD cooperation in Burma by announcing that U.S. economic sanctions against the country would be eased. 

The decision, according to The Associated Press, flew in the face of Congress, which had voted to renew those sanctions in August. 

In June, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pressed the administration to keep the sanctions against Burma's state-run oil-and-gas sectors in place, arguing those operations "are not yet sufficiently accountable to the Burmese parliament and people.”

However, the White House moved ahead with plans to ease those restrictions, using language in the legislation granting the administration waiver authority on those sanctions. 

Should Burma remain on track with its reform agenda, U.S. troops could once again be working alongside their military counterparts in Naypyidaw. 

The Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community had been heavily involved with the country's armed forces since the late 1980s, particularly in the area of counternarcotics. 

Burma, along with Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, are part of the so-called "Golden Triangle," where the majority of the heroin from southeast Asia is produced. 

To that end, Burmese military leaders had also routinely received specialized training at DOD and CIA facilities in the United States. 

In the mid-1990s, Washington cut most military cooperation efforts in Burma and imposed harsh economic sanctions against the country in protest of its increasingly repressive military regime.