US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the Obama administration has decided to engage in direct high-level talks with Myanmar's junta.
Clinton made the announcement at the United Nations after meeting with her counterparts from a number of countries aiming at democratic reforms in the tightly-controlled country, including allowing dissent and releasing thousands of political prisoners, most notably Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won the country's last elections in 1990 but the military never abided by the results. She has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years.
Clinton said that U.S. sanctions against members of Myanmar's leadership would remain in place, but that engagement would be part of the US strategy. For months, Clinton had noted that sanctions alone are having little impact.
"We believe that sanctions remain important as part of our policy, but by themselves they have not produced the results that had been hoped for on behalf of the people of Burma," Clinton said.
"Engagement versus sanctions is a false choice in our opinion," she added. "So, going forward we will be employing both of those tools, pursuing our same goals. To help achieve democratic reform, we will be engaging directly with Burmese authorities."
The new approach follows a review of US policy towards Myanmar initiated after President Barack Obama took office.
A senior State Department official said the administration plans to name an envoy to deal with an "interlocutor", whom Myanmar is expected to name soon to handle the dialogue with Washington. He added that discussions with Myanmar would now take place at a much higher level.
However, the US Congress has not been briefed on the administration's plans.
US to talk to Burmese military, 24 September 2009,
US wants to engage diplomatically with Myanmar, 24 September 2009,
US changes tack on Myanmar, 24 September 2009,