Senator Jim Webb of Virginia held a rare meeting on Saturday in Myanmar with the leader of the ruling junta, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, and emerged with a promise to free a detained American, officials said, at a time when the United States has said it is reassessing its hard line toward Myanmar’s repressive military government.The junta also allowed Sen. Webb to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to Burma. Back in July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, attending a meeting of ASEAN nations in Phuket, suggested that sanctions on Burma could actually be lifted if the country was to free Suu Kyi, but that her continued detention should lead to that country's expulsion from ASEAN.
Incidentally, when I brought up Clinton's remark during a conversation with someone at the State Department, the official affirmed that the Obama administration was reconsidering America's overall approach to Burma. I thought this development interesting. It had not occurred to me that Obama's avowed shift in approach to foreign relations would extend beyond US dealings with notorious adversaries such as Iran and North Korea to include dialogue with Myanmar.
It will be interesting to watch if this new channel between Senator Webb and Naypyidaw bears fruit. Let's hope so. Because Jim Webb is unusually well-acquainted with the region, he is perhaps the ideal figure to initiate new diplomacy.