President Obama has yet to appoint a special envoy for Myanmar, whose military-ruled regime reportedly is trying to build a nuclear weapon and plans to hold what U.S. lawmakers see as a flawed election this year.
U.S. officials have expressed disappointment with these developments, and members of Congress and activists say the appointment of a U.S. policy coordinator is key to holding the junta accountable for its bad behavior.
Currently, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is part of the foreign policy portfolio of Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
“Kurt Campbell has been very attentive to Burma, but he has a lot on his plate. We need someone who makes Burma their first priority,” said Jennifer Quigley, advocacy director for the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “For us, 2010 is an incredibly critical year in Burma and it makes it that much more important to have a special policy coordinator.”
In a June 8 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Jim Webb recommended Eric John, U.S. ambassador to Thailand, for the special envoy position.
“Ambassador John has spent many years in East Asia, and has long experience in dealing with the North Korean regime on issues that might be similar to those we will be facing in Burma,” wrote Mr. Webb, Virginia Democrat who recently canceled a trip to Myanmar over reports that the junta was trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, requires the president to appoint a “special representative and policy coordinator” for Myanmar.
Mr. Bush nominated Michael Green, a former senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, to the position in November 2008, but the Senate didn’t get around to confirming him.
A bipartisan group of nine U.S. senators wrote to Mr. Obama on March 26, urging him to nominate someone to the position. They said there was “both an urgent policy need and an unambiguous legal requirement for this position to be filled.”
In response to the letter, National Security Adviser James L. Jones wrote that the administration was in the process of nominating someone to fill the position. That letter was sent in April.
“The naming of a special representative and policy coordinator for Burma … is a priority for the administration,” said Ben Chang, deputy spokesman for the National Security Council.
The State Department reportedly has sent a list of potential nominees to the White House. However, U.S. officials are being tight-lipped about who is on that list.
In Myanmar, election laws laid down by the junta ensured that the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was left with no choice but to drop out.
Ms. Quigley said a special envoy should focus on implementing the rest of the provisions of the JADE Act, including imposing banking sanctions on the regime in Myanmar.
The envoy also must work with Myanmar’s neighbors to ensure they are all on the same page as the U.S. when it comes to sanctions, criticism of the election and investigations of crimes committed by the junta against ethnic minorities, she said.
Members of Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD also want an envoy in place soon.
Nyo Ohn Myint, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NLD (Liberated Area), said in an interview from Thailand that the “U.S. government has to bring a special envoy and its clear mission and objective.”
Jared Genser, Mrs. Suu Kyi’s international counsel, said he hoped the Obama administration would appoint a special envoy “as soon as possible.”
Mrs. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been kept under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.