“We have denounced in the strongest possible terms Burma’s military leaders for seeking to reject the will of the people,” a senior State Department official said on a call with reporters, using another name for the country. “This assessment triggers certain restrictions on foreign assistance to the government of Burma, as it should, and in addition we will undertake a broader review of our assistance programs to ensure that they align with recent events.”
The coup unseated a fragile civilian government following elections in November and posed a challenge for Biden, who has pledged to return the United States to a leadership role in condemning anti-democratic actions worldwide.
On Monday, the president issued a statement saying the reversal of democratic gains in Myanmar, a major foreign policy project of the Obama administration, would “necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities.”
“In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” he said.
Biden warned that the United States was “taking note” of who was standing up for the people of Myanmar as democratic nations around the world denounced the military seizure. Chinese state media have deployed euphemisms for the putsch, calling it a “major cabinet reshuffle.”
U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive policy issue, said the determination would not affect humanitarian assistance, such as the tens of millions of dollars that goes to aiding the country’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the U.S. budget for Myanmar last year was $135 million and that the vast majority of that would not be affected by the coup determination.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he had spoken to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the coup and expressed support for sanctions.
McConnell credited the new administration for its bipartisan effort and outreach to Congress after the conversations Monday.
“This is a military coup and an attack on democracy, plain and simple,” McConnell, a longtime champion of democracy in Myanmar, said in remarks on the Senate floor. “There are two paths before Burma. It can continue to grow into a modern democratic country, connected to the global economy, or remain a corrupt, impoverished, authoritarian backwater in the shadow of the People’s Republic of China.”
Monday’s seizure was the culmination of weeks of political tensions as the military and its proxy political party had been alleging widespread fraud in the November vote, which saw a landslide election victory for Suu Kyi’s party. The international community and Myanmar’s election commission have dismissed the military’s fraud claims as baseless.
The military has declared a state of emergency for a year and said it would hold fresh elections after that.
On Tuesday, Suu Kyi was still under house arrest in Naypyidaw. Suu Kyi’s ministers, also detained in the military takeover, were slowly being released, replaced by former generals and army loyalists.
Shibani Mahtani in Hong Kong contributed to this report.