Obama ‘soon’ to pick ambassador to Burma

April 3, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi, arriving at her party’s headquarters in Rangoon on Monday. (Khin Maung Win/AP)

But despite the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s victory and the symbolism it evokes, it’s not as if conditions on the ground have been upended. After all, her party has only a small fraction of the seats in parliament and the military junta remains firmly in control.

Still, the elections, and the regime’s recent freeing of political prisoners and signing of cease-fires with ethnic rebels — though fighting continues in some areas — are viewed by U.S. officials as something worth noting.

Maybe not worth a dramatic easing of all the numerous U.S. economic sanctions imposed to squeeze the regime, but something. We’re told one of the first orders of business, as noted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January, would be to send an ambassador there for the first time since 1990.

Smart money is trending these days to veteran Asia hand Derek Mitchell, who’s now the special representative for Burma and the architect of the current diplomatic policy, as the likely pick as ambassador.

In addition to the merits, any outside candidate likely would have to wait as long as three months to clear the Senate. But Mitchell was confirmed by the Senate in August for his current job, so the paperwork is pretty much done and he could be sent over quickly.

We’re told an announcement will come “soon” on who the ambassador will be, though maybe not this week. Turns out Mitchell is in Europe this week, coordinating matters Burmese with the Euros.

But it seems he’ll be back in town by Monday evening to attend a screening and panel discussion of the recent Luc Besson film about Suu Kyi, “The Lady,” at the Motion Picture Association of America.

Mitchell and Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, will be on a panel with Besson discussing the movie and events in Burma. Clinton is also expected to attend, along with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.

Timing is everything, they say.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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