WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Wednesday said it would soon nominate an ambassador to Myanmar and ease some travel and financial restrictions on the formerly military-run Southeast Asian nation following historic elections that saw opposition gains in parliament.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the steps at the State Department, calling Sunday's election a "dramatic demonstration of popular will that brings a new generation of reformers into government" that deserved recognition.
"This is an important step in the country's transformation," she said, congratulating both government reformers and Nobel peace laureate and newly election member of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi.
"While there is much to be done and significant tests lie ahead, we applaud the president and his colleagues for their leadership and courage and we congratulate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on her election to parliament," Clinton said, using her honorary title.
In addition to nominating an ambassador, the first the U.S. will have in the nation since it downgraded relations in 1988, Clinton said Washington would allow select senior Myanmar officials to visit the United States and ease restrictions on the export of financial services. The U.S. will also open an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Myanmar.
At the same time, Clinton said that sanctions against people and institutions in Myanmar that try to thwart democratic progress would remain in place.
And, she said the U.S. would continue to press hard for further reform, including a verifiable cut-off in military ties between Myanmar and North Korea, the release of all political prisoners and an end to decades of fighting with ethnic minorities.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule for a half-century and subject for decades to tough U.S. sanctions that prohibited most Americans from any commercial transactions there.
When he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama authorized a full review of U.S. policy toward Myanmar that led to the offer of significant incentives in exchange for reforms. Last year, the military ceded power to a civilian government it backed and pledged to move toward democracy.
Those vows led to Clinton visiting Myanmar in December, the first secretary of state to do so in more than 50 years. At the time, she promised that positive actions from the government would be met with positive actions from the U.S.
Clinton, who met with Suu Kyi on that December trip, cautioned on Wednesday that "the future is neither clear nor certain" but pledged that additional progress would be rewarded.