The Cable

Webb cancels Burma trip

Things must be pretty bad in Burma if even Jim Webb won't go there; the Asia-focused Senator from Virginia canceled his planned stopover in the militarized Southeast Asian state, his office announced Thursday.

Webb, who has been active on Asia policy since taking over the Senate Foreign Relations Asia subcommittee, is one of two representatives of the U.S. government to visit Burma since Obama took office. The other is Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who was just in Burma last month. Webb said that new reports about nuclear cooperation between Burma and North Korea, along with Burma's alleged violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring arms trade with North Korea, added up to the wrong environment for a visit.

The U.N. released its new report on North Korea's elicit activities last Friday, which accused the Hermit Kingdom of using several countries and companies, including those in Burma, to export nuclear and missile technology.

"It is unclear whether these allegations have substantive merit ... Until there is further clarification on these matters, I believe it would be unwise and potentially counterproductive for me to visit Burma," Webb said.

He has completed visits to South Korean and Thailand and will now return home to Washington.

Webb went to Burma last August, getting out ahead of the Obama administration's overall policy review, calling for engagement before the White House had settled on its approach to the repressive military government led by Gen. Than Shwe. At that time he met with Burmese junta representatives as well as Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Campbell, the administration's point man on Burma, has visited there twice since Webb's trip and has also met with Suu Kyi and some senior members of the Burmese military regime. He hasn't been impressed; after visiting in May, he declared, "What we have seen to date leads us to believe that [upcoming] elections will lack international legitimacy."

Webb and Campbell are reading from the same sheet of music now, but that wasn't always the case. Asia watchers saw Webb as holding up Campbell's nomination last year (a charge Webb denies) over the administration's reluctance to engage Burma and Webb's concerns over Campbell's consulting activities.

But after some personal mediation by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the release of an administration policy that basically tracks Webb's call for more interaction with both sides, the two personalities are now marching in lockstep. Webb even tried to secure $100 million in extra funding for Campbell's bureau, although that effort ultimately failed.

Webb also called on Obama to appoint a special envoy to Burma Thursday. That's significant because it was Webb's predecessor on the subcommittee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who prevented the last nominee from assuming the position.

President George W. Bush had nominated former National Security Council Asia Director Mike Green, a friend and former business partner of Campbell's, for the job. But the Senate didn't act before Bush left office and Boxer refused to move the nomination unless she got something in return from the White House.

"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," Webb said, saying that could only happen when concerns about Burma's cooperation with North Korea are resolved.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: India, flotilla, Iran, Hatoyama, Cuba

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Wednesday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • As the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue kicked off at the State Department today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Education Minister Kapil Sibal and Undersecretary Bill Burns met with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. Clinton also met with 17 civic leaders from North Africa and the Middle East who are connected to the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
  • Special Envoy George Mitchell led the delegation Wednesday to the Palestinian Investment Conference and had the chance to speak with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They even had dinner together. Meanwhile, the UN's Human Rights Council, which the U.S. recently joined, voted to condemn the Gaza flotilla incident as an "outrageous attack" and called for an independent investigation. The U.S. voted no.
  • There were 12 Americans in the flotilla, one of whom was injured, all of whom have either been or are in the process of being deported. One of them was 81-year old former Ambassador Edward Peck. Crowley said that Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) representatives have met with Hamas leaders on multiple occasions but didn't know where or not they had a link to al-Qaeda.
  • Regarding the U.S. push for a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution on Iran, Crowley said the technical annexes were still being worked out. He wouldn't commit to any specific timing for a vote. "We're going to put forward this resolution in the coming days, and we expect all responsible members of the international community, especially those entrusted to serve on the U.N. Security Council and deal with these matters, to support the resolution," he said.
  • The State Department is not conceding that the U.S.-Japan dispute over the Futenma air station was the proximate cause for the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Crowley pointed to the North Korean ship sinking crisis as evidence that military cooperation is crucial. "The importance of our presence in the region and the U.S.- Japanese alliance is underscored current tensions in Northeast Asia," he said, adding, " We have, we believe, reached a fair resolution that sustains the alliance." Message to the next Japanese leader? Don't try to open up this can of worms again.
  • Several State Department officials are in the Dominican Republic to attend the World Summit for the Future of Haiti, a follow up to the March 31 donors conference in New York. State attendees included Counselor Cheryl Mills, Deputy Assistant Secretary Julissa Reynoso, and Paul Weisenfeld and Christopher Milligan from USAID. The Haiti Reconstruction Commission was launched Tuesday and will be chaired by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and U.N. Special Envoy Bill Clinton.
  • The State Department would like to "congratulate and commend" Liberia for arresting seven as part of a joint U.S.-Liberian drug trafficking sting. "The message being sent in Liberia is strong and clear. Liberia is not open for this type of business," Crowley said.
  • State continues to plea for the release of Alan Gross, the USAID contractor arrested in Cuba for distributing satellite phones, laptops, and the like. The U.S. has been granted consular access to Gross five times, most recently on May 25.
  • State is also "sorry" for the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who was beaten and tasered to death in San Diego. The local police and DHS are investigating the incident.