Senior US diplomats visit Burma

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In the start of a shift towards greater US engagement with Burma, two senior American diplomats yesterday arrived in the country for the highest level visit from Washington in almost 15 years.

In a visit that underlines the desire of the Obama administration for a new approach with Burma, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the senior US diplomat for East Asia, flew to the capital, Naypyitaw, with his deputy for talks with senior officials. Today the pair are scheduled to travel to the commercial capital, Rangoon, to meet the imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The new policy was announced in New York in September by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, following a review of Washington's relationship with Burma's military regime. Jim Webb, a prominent Democrat senator who visited Burma and helped secure the release of a detained US citizen earlier this year, had argued that engagement was likely to be more productive than sanctions and isolation.

Derek Tonkin, a former British diplomat and head of Network Myanmar, said the visit would have been unthinkable two years ago, "but we have a new US President who has decided that, in regard to [countries like] Iran and Syria and Cuba, they can do something better than continual confrontation".