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Cablegate: Burma: Senior Generals Start a Conversation; How

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHGO #0539/01 2301059
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 181059Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9364
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE

S E C R E T RANGOON 000539

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/18/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: SENIOR GENERALS START A CONVERSATION; HOW
WILL WE RESPOND?

REF: A. RANGOON 535
B. RANGOON 536

C. RANGOON 527
D. RANGOON 534

Classified By: P/E Chief Jennifer Harhigh for Reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)

Summary
--------

1. (S) Burma's senior generals used Senator Webb's visit to
deliver an unequivocal message: the GOB wants better
relations with the United States. They want direct
communication with Washington and have identified an envoy --
regime insider and former Ambassador to the United States U
Thaung. It is certain Than Shwe believes he has unclenched
its fist -- granting a first-ever meeting with a U.S.
official, arranging a session for Senator Webb with Aung San
Suu Kyi, and deporting an American prisoner as a sign of
"friendship." The generals will look for a response. We
should allow Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win to visit the
Embassy in Washington following UNGA. We should undertake
immediate discourse with U Thaung, including soon at the
Washington level, to sketch out mutual expectations.
Meanwhile, we should renew efforts publicly and privately to
encourage dialogue between the regime and a "pragmatic"
National League for Democracy, while seeking to consult with
ASSK throughout the process. End summary.

A Fist Unclenched?
------------------

2. (S) The first U.S. official meeting with Than Shwe was
decidedly more upbeat than expected. He was clearly in
listening mode. He did not appear angry or hostile, even
upon mention of ASSK. He smiled and greeted Senator Webb and
Charge warmly. He peppered the conversation with mentions of
"friends" and friendship."

3. (S) Than Shwe and Prime Minister Thein Sein worked from
the same script during their separate meetings with Senator
Webb (Refs A and B). Both cited an earlier, more positive
era in U.S.-Burma relations while stressing that the current
relationship could be better. The generals left no doubt
they are reaching out, requesting "direct" bilateral
relations, appointing U Thaung as an envoy with a direct line
to Nay Pyi Taw, and suggesting an upgrade to Ambassador on
both sides.

4. (S) Than Shwe and his top brass clearly heard Senator
Webb's message that ASSK's fate is critical to the USG and an
obstacle that must be addressed for meaningful improvement in
relations. When the Senator raised the matter of ASSK's
release with Than Shwe, his reply was brief and
non-committal, perhaps because the Senator broke in to give
the conversation took a different turn (the Senator told us
later he preferred to leave ASSK's status open rather than
elicit a negative reply). Nonetheless, Than Shwe could have
taken any opportunity to launch into a tirade against ASSK.
He did not. ASSK's own National League for Democracy (NLD)
leaders told us (Ref C) and repeated to Senator Webb they
perceive a possible shift in Than Shwe's attitude and are
hopeful he is prepared for dialogue.

Expectations are High
---------------------

5. (S) In another indication of the regime's intentions,
the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar, in both
Burmese and English editions, hailed Senator Webb's visit as
a success under the headline "The first step of a long
journey." The article explained that Burma enthusiastically
cooperated with Senator Webb because of "its stance to deepen
bilateral relations and relieve the disagreements between the
two countries. In conclusion, the article said the Senator's
visit is the "first step to promotion of the relations
between the two countries...the first step towards marching
to a 1000-mile destination."

6. (S) Meanwhile, expectations here are high among both
government officials and ordinary citizens, with nearly all
hoping the Senator's meetings will lead to a more positive
bilateral relationship. Embassy officials were inundated by
well-wishers, many of whom expressed their satisfaction that
positive progress had been made toward improving relations,
at a national day reception following the visit. The trip is
dominating tea shop talk throughout Rangoon, with many
curious about the possible longer-term implications.

7. XXXXXXXXXXXX

Extending Our Hand...
---------------------

8. (S) The generals no doubt believe they have taken an
important and conciliatory step. Than Shwe agreed to meet
with a U.S. official for the first time ever -- which has
particular resonance here since the regime uses access to
signal where countries stand in its pecking order (China gets
SPDC members at its national day event; we get MOFA
bureaucrats). The regime allowed Senator Webb to meet with
ASSK, after turning down UNSYG Ban. (Note: To our
knowledge, Senator Webb did not insist on an ASSK meeting
prior to the visit, rather the regime previewed the
possibility, asking if the Senator would be interested. End
note.) On a note we perceive as less significant but still
important, they deported an American prisoner as a sign of
goodwill.

9. (S) The senior generals will expect a U.S. response,
likely soon. We do not for a moment believe the U.S. should
entertain a major shift in Burma policy based on the CODEL,s
outcome. However, we do believe the U.S. should take steps
to acknowledge the GOB's invitation for direct communication
and to explore what might be possible over time. In that
context, we offer the following recommendations for
Washington consideration.

Let the Foreign Minister go to Washington
-----------------------------------------

10. (S) MOFA officials have indicated Foreign Minister Nyan
Win wants to visit a renovation project at the Burmese
Embassy in Washington following UNGA. The regime likely
views this as an equivalent goodwill gesture by the U.S. We
have no indication the FM will request Administration
meetings. We understand the political implications of the
recent ASSK verdict and the significance of September 2007
anniversaries. However, Post strongly supports granting a
visit to Washington, even if certain conditions limiting
duration or interaction are imposed.

Seek a Meeting with U Thaung
----------------------------

11. (S) We should seek a meeting in the near future with U
Thaung to establish initial contact, explore his role and
mandate, and ascertain his level of access to senior
generals. Following an initial meeting at the Charge level,
a meeting with a Washington-based official, perhaps at the
DAS level and in a third country, would be an appropriate
next step. Messages to U Thaung could include reiterating
USG support for resolution of ASSK's status, following up on
discussions in Phuket, including on North Korea, and
exploring perceived win/win issues for future cooperation,
such as POW/MIA remains recovery, raised by the Prime
Minister.

Advocate for Dialogue between Regime and ASSK
---------------------------------------------

12. (S) ASSK could not have been clearer. Her top priority
is commencing, without pre-conditions, direct dialogue with
the regime. ASSK also emphasized the party's pragmatic and
flexible approach and a willingness to cooperate with the
regime to find common ground, including on sanctions (Ref D).
XXXXXXXXXXXX. We propose a letter to Aung Ky
from the Charge on these points. It would be useful to
explore, perhaps in coordination with Senator Webb,
publicizing some of her remarks to clarify to the world her
position and combat the regime's argument that she is rigid
and uncompromising. We should also let it be known she
supports outsiders visiting Burma, and even meeting with the
SPDC, so long as they seek a balanced impression of the
country's situation.

Request Meeting with ASSK
-------------------------

13. (S) The terms of ASSK's current house arrest are less
restrictive on paper, though its remains uncertain how they
will be implemented in practice. As we maintain our
insistence on ASSK's release (along with other political
prisoners), we should also encourage -- certainly in private
and perhaps also publicly -- interim steps by the regime to
allow her interaction with members of her party and outside
visitors. She herself never raised the topic of her own
release in meetings with Senator Webb. She did, however,
emphasize the necessity of consulting with the NLD, including
to discuss the party's position on the 2010 elections.
Taking cues from her, we should urge the regime to allow her
regular, unsupervised access to visitors. We should also
consider how we might respond if, in fact, the regime eases
the conditions of her house arrests and enters into
meaningful dialogue with her. Even CEC members acknowledge
the possibility of dialogue and progress with regime while
ASSK remains in detention (Ref C).

14. (S) We propose to seek a meeting with ASSK at the
Embassy level to follow up on Senator Webb's visit, and to
inquire how the U.S. can best promote an internal dialogue
between the NLD and the regime. If our efforts are
successful, we could pursue a meeting with a Washington-based
official, perhaps in conjunction with a routine visit to
post. We note that other diplomatic missions are seeking our
coordination as they contemplate similar requests to meet
ASSK.

We Must Be Practical, Keep Talking
----------------------------------

15. (S) Throughout her meeting with Senator Webb, Aung San
Suu Kyi emphasized her practicality: "We have a dream list.
We have a wish list. But we're practical. We want a
solution." She also stressed her willingness to talk to the
regime without preconditions. As related to Senator Webb,
ASSK told Aung Kyi in 2007, "Let's agree we won't stop
talking. Let's take things step by step." From our
perspective, the USG should strive for the same end, seeking
practical solutions step by step, while always continuing the
conversation. That process can start, in our view, by
responding to the regime's recent overtures.
VAJDA

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