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US Ambassador to Thailand, Ralph Boyce US policy on Myanmer

US Ambassador to Thailand, Ralph Boyce, his term in Thailand to end also defended Washington’s policy on Burma, saying: “What I think is that our policy is important for the people who are struggling inside Burma. We don’t follow policy necessarily to try to impact the generals; they are fairly impervious—impermeable even— to outside pressure, for good or bad, it seems.

“Even some of the countries that people call ‘enablers’ or their ‘closest protectors’ or whatever—it’s unclear, at the end of the day, just how much influence even they can have.”

There has been growing criticism of the US’s image and their policies. Incoming Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan recently said that the US’s influence in the region was on the wane. And critics have pointed out that the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, twice canceled visits to attend Asean meetings where the US traditionally sends its highest State Department official.

Ambassador Boyce responded: “I think it would be a misinterpretation to suggest that Secretary Rice’s inability to attend the last two or three meetings was because of her lack of attentiveness. We have a lot on our policy agenda and there are geographic and time constraints that make it a huge investment for a US Secretary to come out for an Asean meeting. It’s not because we don’t take Asean seriously.”

The ambassador added that the current US administration has upgraded its attention on Asean as an institution, as a region, and to the bilateral relationships it enjoys with each of the Asean partners.

He admitted that the Chinese were more influential in the region; however, he welcomed the strides China had taken.

“I think that Chinese diplomacy is very active in the region, as it should be,” he said. “Some people call it the emergence of China; it’s really the re-emergence of China. It’s a more natural state of things.”

Ambassador Boyce noted that the US had spent the last 50 years as “the preeminent power in the region.” That was, he said, very unusual in world history and had evolved after the Second World War because all the other major powers were preoccupied internally or elsewhere.

“What it means to the US is that it’s more challenging for us to maintain our influence and, if other countries are going to be more active in the region, it means that we have to be more active too,” he added.

On Burma, the ambassador said that the UN envoys’ visits to Burma were “extremely important.”

However, when asked if the US wished to send a special envoy to the region to deal with the Burmese generals, he replied: “Too many envoys spoil the broth.”

“The regime claims they will deal only with the UN, and they reject a regional approach: they certainly reject any intervention from actors like the US or the UK or the EU,” said Boyce.

He also praised Thailand for its long-term policy on dealing with refugees.

“Everyone has been very attentive over the last decades to rumors that there were going to be major push-backs—whether it was with Cambodians, Vietnamese, Lao of various types, or Burmese of various types,” he said, concluding: “Thailand’s record is, in fact, pretty good on that score.”

Asked if the US would be willing to engage with Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the Burmese regime, Ambassador Boyce pointed out that an unpublicized meeting between senior US State Department officials and Burmese ministers had taken place some months before in Beijing.

Details of the talks were unknown, but Western diplomats said that they were cordial. However, the US did request the release of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The ambassador said: “We engaged in Beijing—meetings that the Chinese brokered between the [Burmese] regime and ourselves; and as long as those discussions can produce something substantive as opposed to just ‘talk’—talking past each other—then I think we’re always ready to engage.”

Concluding the interview with a message of support to the people of Burma, the US ambassador said: “We are watching. Stay the course. We know the suffering. We will never change our policy about what is right in Burma. We are there.”
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