U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday elections planned in Burma next year will not be seen as legitimate unless the military government engages in dialogue with the country's opposition and ethnic minorities. Clinton spoke with VOA in Manila in advance of joining President Obama in Singapore for multi-lateral meetings that could include U.S. interaction with Burmese leaders.
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton says there is no expectation that any U.S.-Burma encounter early next week in Singapore will produce a breakthrough like an easing of restrictions on democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
But she is none-the-less expressing hope for long-term change in Burma based on, among other things, unusually accommodating treatment accorded two senior U.S. diplomats who visited Burma last week.
In an interview with VOA, the Secretary of State said the American envoys not only met with Burmese government officials, but also opposition figures including an unrestricted meeting with the long-detained National League for Democracy party leader.
"It was an open and very free exchange of our ideas with them. Secondly, the fact that unlike in previous visits, our ability to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi was unmonitored, unsupervised for two hours, which was quite unusual and very helpful, the fact that the diplomats were able to meet with representatives of the political opposition and ethnic groups. It was a series of meetings that were more far-ranging and more open than we have seen in reports from others who have gone," she said.
Clinton will join President Barack Obama for the summit of APEC - the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. On the sidelines of that, there will be a meeting Sunday bringing together Mr. Obama and the leaders of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, which includes Burma.
No separate U.S. Burma meeting is planned, but both the president and Secretary Clinton say they may have interaction with Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein.
Clinton told VOA if she does have a conversation with the Burmese leader, he will again be pressed to allow a fully open electoral process.
"I would certainly reinforce the message that our two diplomats, Assistant Secretary (for East Asian Affairs) Kurt Campbell and Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Marciel brought with them to Burma, underscoring the willingness of the United States to engage with Burma, but recognizing that if the government there holds elections there next year, they will not be legitimate unless they engage with a dialogue with the people of Burma and create the atmosphere for free, fair and credible elections," she said.
Clinton has said the United States is not prepared to lift sanctions against Burma, including a near total ban on trade, without major steps toward reform, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Earlier Friday, at a "town hall meeting" with Filipino students and reporters, Clinton said she doubted the Singapore meetings would yield any major announcement by Burmese authorities like an easing of restrictions on the detained opposition leader.
She said there is no doubt that Burmese military leaders who have ruled the country since 1962 are "on the wrong side of history" but said bringing change to the country could be a slow process lasting years.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been under various forms of detention most of the time since 1990, when her NLD party won national elections but was barred from taking power.
Senior U.S. officials say the detained Nobel Peace laureate told them she supports the Obama administration's effort to engage the military, and mobilize regional pressure for free elections.