Obama to lift sanctions on Myanmar

Obama to lift sanctions on Myanmar
© Getty Images
President Obama announced Wednesday he’s prepared to lift economic sanctions on Myanmar, rewarding the former military dictatorship for its move toward democracy. 
 
The president made the announcement after meeting with the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in the Oval Office. 
 
Obama said he is “now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed,” pointing to a “remarkable social and political transformation” in Myanmar.
 
“It is the right thing to do to ensure that the people of Burma see rewards for a new way of doing business,” he said, sitting beside Suu Kyi. The military junta in Myanmar changed the country's name from Burma in 1989.
 
Asked by a reporter when sanctions will be lifted, Obama replied, “soon.”
 
The move comes as Obama is seeking to burnish his legacy during his remaining months in office. 
 
His administration views Myanmar’s transition from military rule as a major achievement of its effort to “rebalance” U.S. foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region. 
 
Facing political pressure at home, Suu Kyi had reportedly requested that the U.S. lift an executive order authorizing sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation. 
  
Repealing the order allows the U.S. to remove sanctions against more than 100 individuals, businesses and organizations with ties to Myanmar’s military, which remains a powerful economic and political force. 
 
But human-rights advocates opposed the move, arguing that the military is still carrying out abuses against ethnic minorities that could threaten the country’s fragile democratic transition. 
  
“They shouldn’t be fully lifted until the democratic transition is irreversible,” John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said last week. 
 
White House press secretary Josh Earnest rejected the argument that removing sanctions would squander U.S. leverage on human-rights concerns. 
 
“If anything, we're enhancing it" by engaging further with Myanmar, he told reporters.
 
Some sanctions will still remain in place, including those designed to stop drug trafficking and prevent military trade with North Korea, according to The Associated Press. 
 
The process of democratic reform began in 2010, when the junta began to transition power to a civilian government aligned with the military. 
 
The move away from the military dictatorship was capped off earlier this year when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took control after a historic victory in national elections last November.
 
But the party still must grapple with economic reforms and problems posed by the country’s military-drafted constitution. 
 
For example, Suu Kyi — a former political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner — is barred from serving as president under the governing document. 
 
During that time, the Obama administration has pursued closer diplomatic and economic ties with Myanmar. 
 
The White House announced Wednesday it restored trade benefits for the country that were suspended under President George H.W. Bush. 
 
The administration relaxed bank sanctions on Myanmar in May.
 
This report was updated at 1:17 p.m.