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Background Briefing on the Secretary's Meetings With Burmese President Thein Sein, Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame

By US Department of State
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NEW YORK, September 27, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Special Briefing

Senior State Department Officials

Waldorf Astoria Hotel

New York City

September 26, 2012

MODERATOR: All right. Good evening, everybody. Thank you for your patience. As you know, the Secretary has just met with Burmese President Thein Sein, her third meeting with him in the last year. Here to give you a sense of that meeting is [Senior State Department Official One], hereafter Senior State Department Official. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official One].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, thanks very much, [Moderator], and thanks everyone for being here. We just had about – I guess about an hour meeting with President Thein Sein. This, as you know, is the third meeting they've met. Most previously they met in July in Siem Reap in Cambodia. And of course, the Secretary was very appreciative that he made the trip specially from Burma to Cambodia, and she went to (inaudible) Hotel where he stayed to make a call on him.

And as it's third meeting, they've gotten to know each other quite well. I would say overall it was a very warm meeting and – with both, on the Secretary's part, expressing appreciation for what he has done, especially in terms of transforming the political landscape that is Burma today.

And they also discussed in a very warm way – Aung San Suu Kyi visit here, that it's gone very well, and it's clear that Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi are effective team, very effective team coming out here.

The discussion, as you can imagine, reviewed the things that have happened over the last – since they met in July and, as you know, last week Congress passed bills, legislation that would lift sanctions or, I would say – which had mandated the Administration to vote no in any kind of (inaudible) loans or activities. So she informed him of that. He was very appreciative. And also she informed him that there is this huge remaining sanctions, which are the import sanctions – that is, exports of Burma to United States. And she said, “We will begin the process to ease those sanctions and that we will work with Congress, consult Congress and other stakeholders to ease those sanctions.”

They also reviewed a lot of political issues. As you know, Burma has most recently released political prisoners, and they had a good exchange on the kind of ethnic – I guess nationalities issue that is Burma challenges and he – and Secretary said, “We would like to help in any way we can in the reconciliation process, in the peace process.” And he very much welcomed that.

We are also wanting to help in several other areas. For example, they still have a lot of land mines, which is a legacy issue between the wars between – with the ethnic groups, and we want to help with those. And lastly, also she said a lot of work still remains to be done, and particularly noting that there are still political prisoners there, and, of course, the peace agreements that have to be reached with ethnic groups. And finally she also mentioned that on nonproliferation that Burma seriously should cut off any kind of military relationship with North Korea.

So again, it was a very warm meeting, and also – one item that I, on the ethnic side, I didn't mention is regarding the Rakhine state. As you know, there has been an outbreak of violence in June, in which about I think 88, 89 persons got killed and there are – as a result of those violence, there are a number of IDPs, internally displaced persons. And this is a long, long, long issue that has been going on for decades, and she clearly made a point that overall, this is a communal violence issue rather than a religious issue as some have seen it. And I think President Thein Sein very much agreed with that view, and that again, there, we would like to help as much as we can in terms of humanitarian assistance, and if they need reconciliation process. So I think that about completes it, [Moderator].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Just to say, because our briefer's too modest to say it, that as you may know, the Secretary sent a delegation to Burma, oh, two weeks ago?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Two weeks ago to work with the Burmese on the Rakhine state issue. And they were able to fly down there and talk to people –


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. A group of us, myself included, our Ambassador included, as well as USAID team, went to Rakhine state. We went to – the big town there is called Sittwe, S-I-T-T-W-E. And we were accompanied throughout the trip by their Border Minister Thein Htay, who was here today. It was kind of good to see (inaudible), because as you know in the (inaudible) – I don't know whether you follow that issue – there have been a lot of critical statements by especially some Islamic countries on Burma.

And so we went there. We went to camps. We went to mosques. We went to temples. We flew, courtesy of Burma army, to Maungdaw, which is right on the border between Bangladesh and Rakhine state, Burma. And so we were able to see firsthand. And I mean, it's really – to me, this speaks volumes about the changed relationship between the United States and Burma, that they would have enough trust in us to allow us to visit, to go talk to anyone. And so for me it was an educational trip, got to know a lot about these issues.

And then we went to Bangladesh, actually, as well, to look at it from Bangladesh's side. So this is a difficult, difficult issue, about – there are probably close to million Rohingyas in Rakhine state, probably 3-400,000 in Bangladesh, and then there are also spread apart, probably about 100,000, most of them probably not documented, in Malaysia, many in Saudi Arabia also working. And as you know, they are stateless, so it's really a kind of a group that you do want to help, but it's a difficult issue.

MODERATOR: Good. Let's go to questions. Steve.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Secretary and then you talked about beginning the process of easing --


QUESTION: -- (inaudible) import (inaudible). Can you just explain what that process will be now and what's required before you start seeing imports?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. This is a process that will require a waiver to be done by the Administration. So as we did – as you – if you recall about two months ago, investment – three months ago when we lifted through waiver investment sanctions as well as financial services sanctions. So it's a process, I think, that will take some time.

Also, since this is a legislative requirement, we will be consulting with Congress quite closely. As you know Aung San Suu Kyi came here about a week ago, came to Washington. And I think both her and President Thein Sein have made it clear, time for using sanctions to modify political behavior, given the political transformation in Burma, has gone past. And so I think this is pretty much consensus view among Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD, as well as, obviously, the government there.

So this process, I don't know exactly how long it takes. I always underestimate how long it's going to take, but we want to get it started through consultations and work on all the legalities we need to touch before it's done.


QUESTION: A follow-up. And then – this is just my ignorance about how this works, but does then – people have mentioned areas of specific concerns, including timber and gemstones and stuff like that. When you're talking about these waivers, would it be a waiver sort of per product or per area, or how would --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is why it's going to take a while, because we need to look at these and make a decision, through consultations and through our own interagency process on exactly what you mentioned. Is it going to be everything? And then so all these things, we are now going to undertake.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Just to remind that a number of you were frustrated when it took some time between the announcement and the implementation on the lifting of the sanctions on investment, and you later understood that we had to work through all of these issues of whether all categories would be covered --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: -- what exactly the various layers of legislation say that have to be worked through, and this whole issue that we ultimately came up with on the U.S. investment having to do with ethical behavior.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Ethical behavior and energy sector, extractive sector. So those things we're going to have to work through again.


QUESTION: Could I ask when the import ban was first imposed, what kind of products we're talking about essentially and if you have any idea what the total amount that it could be worth, although I know – I appreciate that's difficult to calculate.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It is very difficult, but what I know is that the kind of basic import ban is from BFDA, Burma Freedom and Democracy Act. And at the time we imposed it – I think it's probably about 10 years old now – there wasn't all that much trade. And so we're not talking billions of dollars. I think we're talking probably maximum – I mean, I don't want to get into numbers, but it's not a huge amount at that time.

But clearly, what this is intended to do is to have a Burmese economy that is more than extractive sector, that is more than resource based in terms of exports, that they will be able to manufacture goods, which will create jobs. And this is the point that President Thein Sein made during the meeting, is that EU has also lifted ban, as you know, and U.S. doing it will make it possible for them to have a viable manufacture value-added export sector.

QUESTION: Can you give us a general idea of what the imports consisted of when the ban was imposed?


MODERATOR: We have joining us now as Senior State Department Official Number Two, [Senior State Department Official Two].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You've just come at a tough question time. (Laughter.)


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Yeah. I think at the time, again, we were not – when the sanctions or legislation was first placed, I don't think there was huge amount of trade between Burma and United States. I think a lot of it was maybe hardwood, some gem, some garments, and so on. But it wasn't a lot.

I was just explaining to them we'll start – we will kick off the process, and then we need to examine, as we did for investments and financial services, the scope and everything, we haven't done that yet.

MODERATOR: Your questions, please.

QUESTION: Can you say this import ban is the last measure, U.S. sanction on Myanmar/Burma?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I hate to be definitive that is the last major sanction, but as far as I know, on economic area, it's probably the – now that we have done investment, now that we've done financial services, and now that the international financial institutions' activities are also done, I do believe it is among the goods and services – exports of goods and services, trade in goods and services – I think it's the last major category.


QUESTION: Just a follow-up question. Can I just clarify, so right now, any kind of product is not exporting from Burma to the United States?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right now, it's a blanket. Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Were there discussions about the increase in revenue and how that would be used by the Burmese Government in order to prevent corruption?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. We didn't discuss that at all on how we're going to limit activities, import-export activities and so on. So again, I think as one of your colleagues mentioned, we would want to examine that side as well as we go about implementing the easing of sanctions.

QUESTION: So you're looking at there being (inaudible) to make sure?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think we should examine the avenues, including those. Yeah, mm-hmm.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think more broadly, the Secretary has in her past meetings with Thein Sein made clear what a danger it is for a country that is going through transformation to make sure that it is looking hard at preventing corruption, official corruption, et cetera. And that's an area that we've also offered to best practices and help with going forward.

[Senior State Department Two], anything to add there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, it just goes – a couple things. I mean, one is the general theme of transparency that we talk about with revenue streams and how they use their money. But you heard from Aung San Suu Kyi last week as well that this is her desire and I think the government's desire and the people's desire there is to have economic activity, develop jobs, develop people's livelihoods, and in that way I think assist the reform process. You have, I think, political reforms moving forward. Economic reforms take a little bit longer. Economic development takes a little bit longer. But they need to go hand in hand. People need to feel a tangible result from the political reforms, the opening up, the different environment that they feel. They need to also see something tangible in their daily lives. And the sense is that opening up the American market can assist that process of creating jobs, creating those economic opportunities, and thereby assisting the overall reform process.


QUESTION: This is a follow-up question. It's sort of related. I mean, you said that you've peeled off all these various sanctions. And of course, I mean, the obvious queestion is, well, what leverage do you have left now, particularly – not on, obviously, these basic issues of people getting what they want in life. I mean, not – but on things like North Korea where there is a specific U.S. interest at stake and the Burmese have not delivered over this whole period yet on that specific policy point. Why would they bother doing it now when you've already essentially given them 90 percent of what they want?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think that's an interesting question you raise is at what point do you have a normal dialogue, normal relationship, with a country. And I think our view is that we have many ways that we talk to them. We talk to them over overall assistance. We're doing quite a bit of humanitarian assistance. We're having high-level dialogue. This is third meeting between Secretary Clinton and President Thein Sein, and we meet regularly on the margins of big meetings now.

So certainly, on our part, we believe that we are making steps that gets to them talking to us, and so I think we want to transition now to much more normal relationship in which we can talk very frankly about these difficult issues and the (inaudible) of sanctions, those tools may not be as appropriate as it has been.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) since December, so nine months now basically since the Secretary went there. Has there been any movement on the scaling back or cutting off ties with the North Koreans, or is that still very much an issue for you guys?

And secondly, what was in the envelope that you gave to the Secretary (inaudible) to the President?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think we can say that was a letter to the President from President Thein Sein. Yeah.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. We didn't see the content.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: We didn't open it. It wasn't addressed to us. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) There was no writing on the front of it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: But I think she did mention --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It's to the President. It's for the President (inaudible).

QUESTION: Oh, I know. But it didn't say to – (laughter).


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It may be on another envelope inside. Yeah.

QUESTION: On the North Korea question, I mean, have they done anything on this, or is it still (inaudible)?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, I think we are not fully satisfied, I think it's safe to say. But I think we are making progress on this front. They understand our concerns. We are having a productive dialogue with them on this. There's nothing further, I think, we can say about it, but I think that – I think we are – this is not something that is stagnant or something that is going in the wrong direction. I think they understand that this is a legacy of a different Burma, the past, that is not consistent with their overall desire to be a member in good standing of the international community. I think Assistant Secretary Campbell spoke the other day and repeatedly about you are defined by the company you keep, and I think they recognize that. And we're getting more satisfaction that they are dealing with this in a way that we will be comfortable (inaudible).

QUESTION: Right. When you say you are not fully satisfied and then you also say look, if you want to be a real responsible or looked up to as a responsible member of the international community, is that not – are they not able to be looked to as a responsible --


QUESTION: -- member of the international community yet?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The dissatisfaction is in the transparency. We're looking for more information about the past, the present --

QUESTION: Okay. So it's not as if they're shipping in stuff or you think that the North Koreans are shipping stuff, that there's active kind of trade between – materiel is flowing into Burma from North Korea?


QUESTION: It's that they haven't come clean about what they did in the past?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I'd say it's – I wouldn't comment about any activities or such, but I would say that we are having a good discussion on this topic that – and we are satisfied it's moving in the right direction. And I think they are trying to be – I think they are serious in ending an era of the previous Burma and becoming a really responsible member in good standing.

QUESTION: Sorry (inaudible), but when did that begin? When did their – they start reaching out to the North Koreans? Back in the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Reaching out to the North Koreans?

QUESTION: Yeah. When did this relationship begin?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Look, I mean, we don't really want to get into when did it begin, what it is, because I mean, that's still highly sensitive item. I think what I can say is that as [Senior State Department Official Two] has emphasized, we're having meaningful discussions with them. For example, they want – we are having meetings and discussions on them acceding to IAEA Additional Protocol, I mean, multilateral agreements such as that.

And so what it points to us, when you have a meaningful discussion, you can gauge whether you're getting through to them. And our fundamental belief is we're getting through to them. They have – it's obviously not a case where you can have open discussions as you would with a treaty ally for example – but we believe we're getting to them; they're taking the right steps. And so I think that's probably where we need to leave it.

MODERATOR: Anything else before we wrap?


QUESTION: If you say that 90 percent of the sanctions that roughly have been lifted, what still remains?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: As I said, I don't want to be definitive because someone might find sanctions somewhere. (Inaudible.) I think once we do import sanctions, once we ease import restrictions, I think you're talking about high 90s of goods and services that are traded. So in terms of commerce, I think we're talking about high 90s.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think you also have to remember that when we eased on investment, it still – we were targeting the bad actors. We were focusing the sanctions instead of having them be blunt and broad and hitting all of society. We are targeting those we consider to be regressive. So those sanctions remain. The SDN list the Treasury has, the targets on the bad types. Those remain --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Those will continue to remain even for imports, obviously.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So we're looking to incentivize good behavior and disincentivize the bad behavior that is, again, a legacy of the past.

QUESTION: This is what you do when you're looking at sector by sector and not at –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: More like companies and individuals, bad actors that you want to essentially – as we do in many countries by the way, not just in Burma – there are people who are on these lists – SDNs they're called. And so those will continue.

MODERATOR: Good. Thank you very much.

Those of you who want to hear about the DRC meeting, hang with me for one second and I'll give you another line.


MODERATOR: No, you don't do DRC. Not yet. Not yet. When we need a real winning team we'll –.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay, guys. Okay, the long awaited four lines on the meeting that the Secretary had on Monday.

So on Monday, the Secretary met with the presidents of the DRC and Rwanda to discuss the ongoing crisis in the Eastern DRC. The Secretary emphasized the need for honest and sustained dialogue between both countries in pursuit of a political resolution to the crisis. She noted that any solution must include bringing the M-23 leadership to justice and both countries committing to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other. The Secretary committed to look into options that could build confidence between the parties in the next several weeks.

And then just to note that there will be a high-level meeting on the Great Lakes tomorrow morning here. Under Secretary Sherman and Assistant Secretary Carson will attend for the United States.

QUESTION: They met separately, though? It was a separate meeting? It wasn't together, was it?


QUESTION: Oh, they were together.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: They were together. The Secretary with President Kabila and President Kagame.