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The World

April 11, 2011

US set to appoint envoy to revive Myanmar policy

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to name a special envoy to Myanmar who is expected to seek more help from the repressive government's neighbors in pressing for democratic reform. Building agreement on the best way to proceed will be tricky.

Southeast Asian nations have called for lifting sanctions, which the U.S. still opposes, while regional powers India and China have their own strategic relationships with Myanmar and have shown little appetite for meddling in its internal affairs.

To be confirmed by the Senate, Derek Mitchell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, probably will have to voice support for sanctions and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. That could make it tougher for the envoy to negotiate with Myanmar's dominant military once he is in the job, said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at Georgetown University.

Mitchell, a China scholar with long experience in Asia, would not comment on his nomination, which is expected within a week and would require him to give up his job at the Pentagon.

An article he co-authored in Foreign Policy magazine in 2007, when he was director for Asia strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, offers clues on how he'd like to operate as envoy.

The article suggested bringing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, India, Japan and the United States together in developing a road map that would lay out benefits if Myanmar pursued true political reform and national reconciliation, and the costs it would suffer if it continued to be intransigent.

In the years since the article was written, Myanmar has launched another bloody crackdown on democracy protesters, continued brutal military campaigns against ethnic minorities and seen thousands flee across its borders. U.S. officials also suspect Myanmar has nuclear ambitions and imported some Scud missiles from North Korea, which Myanmar's neighbors would be worried about, too.

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