Burma's president vowed not to turn back on his country's democratic reforms as he urged the West to lift sanctions, and even dangled the possibility of giving opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a cabinet post.
"We are on the right track to democracy," President Thein Sein said in an interview with The Washington Post published today, his first with Western media. "Because we are on the right track, we can only move forward, and we don't have any intention to draw back."
Thein Sein's government took office in March, ending half a century of military rule. Since then, it has rolled out reforms at a pace that has surprised even Burma's staunchest critics.
Thein Sein said he felt his government had met the West's conditions for lifting sanctions by releasing many political prisoners, scheduling parliamentary elections for April 1 and allowing Suu Kyi among others to participate.
"What is needed from the Western countries is for them to do their part," he said.
Thein Sein repeatedly called for the lifting of severe economic sanctions that the US, European Union and others imposed while Burma was under military rule. He said the sanctions hurt the people of Burma much more than the former junta leaders and were holding back the country's economic progress.
The US and European Union have praised the recent reforms, saying they will monitor how the April vote is conducted among other considerations.
Suu Kyi has said she will personally contest the elections, a historic event that could usher the Nobel laureate and former political prisoner into her first parliamentary seat.
"If the people vote for her, she will be elected and become a member of Parliament. I am sure that the Parliament will warmly welcome her. This is our plan," Thein Sein said.
Asked if he would like to see Suu Kyi in his government, Thein Sein replied: "If one has been appointed or agreed on by the Parliament, we will have to accept that she becomes a Cabinet minister."
Thein Sein said the government was committed to ending the country's long-running ethnic conflicts and was currently communicating with all armed ethnic groups. Cease-fire pacts have been signed with some, including the Karen.
"Soon we will try to achieve an eternal peace in country. However, this will require time," he said.