Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Persistence, persistence

As Secretary Clinton travels to Mexico City, farmers in the Wa region of northern Burma express renewed interest in growing poppies because the price of other cash crops has dramatically dropped. This we can confirm. We wish but wouldn't write that tomorrow Secretary Clinton's scheduled to visit our hip hop peer Zayar Thaw whom the junta's sentenced to six years imprisonment, or the comedian Zargana who's in for 45 years, or struggling former child soldiers. 'Cause that's neither correct nor cute. We honor our commitment to you, Dear Reader. So for now we hold back rumors and restrict ourselves to observing the winding path of news demonstrated by a press conference transcript, a corrected answer, and NY Times article that are posted in part below. Cheers to the Burma-head bloggers for scooping the story from The Irrawaddy and plodding on.

Daily State Department press briefing, 11:30 a.m., Wed.

MR. DUGUID: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, Secretary Clinton is in Mexico today. She’s currently in Mexico City. She’s having meetings with Foreign Minister Espinosa and President Calderon, and she will have a couple of public events that I think will be certainly carried by your colleagues in the Mexican media and those traveling with her on the plane. I don’t have any other announcements or any announcements to offer you, so we’ll go straight to your questions, please. Yes, Sylvie.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that a U.S. official met with Burmese officials in Burma yesterday, and that is a sign of softening of the U.S. position on Burma?
MR. DUGUID: No, I will not confirm that because it’s not correct. I did see that this was a report on a blog. I’ve been directly in touch with the officials that the blog named, and there was no contact that either official recalls, let alone sought out. So the report is incorrect.
QUESTION: So it’s incorrect to say that the – Mr. Blake
met with the Burmese Government?
MR. DUGUID: It is incorrect.
QUESTION: Okay. And – but is it correct to say that he was in Burma, was in Myanmar?
MR. DUGUID: In what time period? I believe he has visited Burma once in the past. He has not, however, had any substantive conversations with Burmese officials, nor has the U.S. position on Burma changed.
QUESTION: If you say it’s not substantive, what does that mean? Does that mean he’s had other, less substantive conversations?
MR. DUGUID: As all diplomats know, if you go to a reception and the host has invited someone else, you may in that setting come across someone from a – in this case, the Burmese Government. The ambassador has no recollection of that happening.
QUESTION: Okay.
MR. DUGUID: But that is a possibility at some point in the future, of course.
QUESTION: When he last visited Burma? You said he visited there recent past.
MR. DUGUID: I did not say the recent past. I said at some point in the past. I don’t have that – those dates for you. I do believe he has been to Burma at some time in the past. I don’t think it’s relevant to this particular question. Yes.

State Department Release, 4 p.m., Wed.
Question: Can you confirm that a U.S. official (U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake) met with Burmese officials in Burma yesterday and does this represent a softening in policy towards Burma?
Answer: No. As the Acting Deputy Spokesman said at today’s Daily Press Briefing, Ambassador Robert Blake did not meet with Burmese officials yesterday.

However, Stephen Blake, the Director of the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department went to Burma as part of a five-country tour of the countries that fall under his office: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In Burma, Mr. Blake met with a variety of people representing a wide range of views regarding the current situation, including Foreign Minister Nyan Win, other members of the Burmese government, members of ethnic minority groups, and members of the National League for Democracy’s Central Executive Committee (aka “The Uncles”).

His visit does not reflect a change in policy or approach to Burma; Office Director-level officials, including Mr. Blake’s two immediate predecessors, have visited Burma and met with Burmese officials on a number of occasions in recent years.

The Burma policy review announced by Secretary Clinton is still underway. While we have not yet finalized our approach, we remain committed to encouraging a genuine dialogue between the Burmese authorities and opposition that leads to a free and democratic Burma that respects the rights of its diverse citizens and is at peace with its neighbors.
NYT article, 7:56 a.m. Thurs.
Stephen Blake, the director of the Office for Mainland Southeast Asia at the State Department, visited Myanmar as part of a tour of five countries in the region. ... Earlier this week, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention violated both international and Myanmar law. ...

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