August 15, 2009 in Nation/World

Virginia senator visiting Myanmar

Colum Lynch Washington Post

Sen. James Webb arrived in Myanmar on Friday for talks with the country’s military ruler, starting a 2 1/2-day diplomatic mission that is likely to prove a test of U.S. efforts to engage recalcitrant foreign governments.

The trip by the Virginia Democrat, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Myanmar in a decade, comes just days after a government-run court sentenced the main opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to an additional 18 months under house arrest. But it also comes as the Obama administration calibrates its policy toward the military junta that rules the country, which came under tough economic sanctions during the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has shown a willingness to engage with Myanmar and other adversaries. Webb’s trip could highlight the benefits of such engagement, at least in Myanmar, U.S. officials said.

But engagement also comes with risks. Earlier this month, the administration’s decision to deploy former President Bill Clinton to North Korea generated a degree of controversy, even as the trip helped secure the release of two Americans.

Administration officials insisted that Webb is not acting on behalf of the United States. But a State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said that officials had briefed Webb before his departure.

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