Burma's President Thein Sein has said that recent reforms in the country are irreversible, and even hinted that Aung San Suu Kyi – once one of the world's most celebrated political prisoners – could be given a cabinet post.
In his first interview with Western media, Thein Sein told the Washington Post that Burma was "on the right track to democracy". The president, who has headed a nominally civilian government for the past nine months, said it was conceivable that the Ms Suu Kyi could be given a position following by-elections this spring.
"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," he said. Asked if he would like to see Ms Suu Kyi in his government, he 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 has surprised most observers with the pace of reforms he has introduced – easing restrictions on the media, legalising unions and protests and releasing the most high-profile political prisoners from jail. For this he has been rewarded with a flurry of senior diplomatic visitors including the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague.
Thein Sein suggested to the Washington Post that the US and EU should drop sanctions against Burma, saying: "What is needed from the Western countries is for them to do their part."
Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, welcomed the prospect of a cabinet post for its leader, who was freed from a long spell of house arrest in 2010, but said it was too early to tell if the reforms of recent weeks warranted the removal of Western sanctions.