The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

Senator Webb Cancels Burma Visit
By BA KAUNG Thursday, June 3, 2010

US Senator Jim Webb has canceled his planned visit to Burma, saying it would be “unwise and counterproductive” for him to go there while new allegations were surfacing about possible nuclear cooperation between Naypyidaw and North Korea.

In a statement issued by his office in Washington, Webb also said he would urge President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to tackle all issues relating to US-Burma relations.

Sen. Jim Webb (Center), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) and Sen. John McCain (L) participate in news conference on Capitol Hill in February. (Photo: Getty Image)
Webb was to have begun his visit to Burma on Thursday.

Announcing the last-minute cancellation on Thursday, Webb's office issued a statement by the senator saying: “News reports published today contain new allegations regarding the possibility that the Burmese government has been working in conjunction with North Korea in order to develop a nuclear program.”

The announcement did not say which news media had carried the reports. But the Doha-based television station Al Jazeera said it would broadcast on Friday a program made by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) on Burma's secret nuclear program.

The DVB program reports on key files and other information smuggled out of Burma by a Burmese army defector, Major Sai Thein Win, a former deputy commander of a top-secret military factory at a town called Myaing. The smuggled material reportedly supports suspicions that North Korea is helping Burma develop a nuclear capability.

“It is unclear whether these allegations have substantive merit,” said Webb in his statement. “However, given the fact that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell recently accused Burma of violating UN Security Council Resolution 1874 with respect to a suspected shipment of arms from North Korea, there are now two unresolved matters related to activities of serious concern between these two countries.

“Until there is further clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit Burma.”

During a visit to Burma in August 2009, Webb met detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

Rangoon sources said that the program of the visit Webb was to have begun on Thursday included meetings with Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and opposition figures.

In his Washington statement, Webb said: “I strongly believe that a continuation of dialogue between our two countries is important for the evolution of a more open governmental system and for the future strategic balance in Southeast Asia. However, a productive dialogue will be achievable only when these two matters are further clarified.”

Webb added: “In the interim period, I intend to strongly suggest to the President that he fulfill the requirements of Public Law 110-286 and immediately appoint a special envoy to address the entire range of issues regarding relations between the United States and Burma.”

Webb chairs the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He was the first US senator last year to visit Burma in more than 10 years, and he remains the only American official to meet with Than Shwe.

He is strongly critical of the US administration’s economic sanctions against Burma, arguing that isolating Burma has strengthened China's grip, weakened US influence and done nothing to improve the junta's behavior.

During his visit to Burma in August 2009, Webb secured the release of an American citizen who was arrested after illegally entering Suu Kyi's home.

The visit he was to have begun on Thursday was part of an Asian tour that has taken him to Thailand and South Korea. The US embassy in Bangkok said he would address a press conference there on Thursday evening.

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |