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US engages Myanmar out of N-fear

world Updated: Mar 05, 2010 02:04 IST

The Obama administration, concerned that Myanmar is expanding its military and nuclear relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Myanmar’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology.

Concerns about the relationship in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Senior US officials have since had four meetings with their counterparts from Myanmar, also known as Burma, with a fifth expected soon. “Our most decisive interactions have been around North Korea,” the official said.

Thus far, the engagement policy has not yielded any change in Myanmar’s treatment of domestic opponents.

Nevertheless, US officials and analysts agree that talking with Myanmar remains the best way forward, especially given the concerns about its deepening military relationship with North Korea.

Underlining the administration’s concerns about Myanmar is a desire to avoid a repeat of events that unfolded in Syria in 2007.

North Korea is thought to have helped Syria build a nuclear reactor there capable of producing plutonium. The facility was reportedly only weeks or months away from being functional when Israeli warplanes bombed it in September of that year.

In a report Albright co-wrote in January, titled “Burma: A Nuclear Wannabe,” he outlined the case for concern about Myanmar’s relations with North Korea. First, Myanmar has signed a deal with Russia for the supply of a 10-megawatt thermal research reactor.

Second, although many claims from dissident groups about covert nuclear sites in Myanmar are still unverified, the report said that “there remain legitimate reasons to suspect the existence of undeclared nuclear activities in Myanmar, particularly in the context of North Korean cooperation.”

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