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Viewing cable 09RANGOON539, BURMA: SENIOR GENERALS START A CONVERSATION; HOW

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RANGOON539 2009-08-18 10:10 2010-12-12 21:09 SECRET Embassy Rangoon
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