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Washington, D.C., November 13, 2009 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says there are signs of slow political change in Burma, but that elections planned for next year will not be credible unless the military government engages with Burma's opposition and ethnic minorities.
Clinton, in an exclusive interview with the Voice of America (VOA), said last week's discussions between top U.S. diplomats and Burmese officials were far-ranging and frank.
"It was an open and very free exchange of our ideas with them," she said. "The fact that unlike in previous visits, our ability to meet with (democracy activist and Nobel Laureate) Aung San Suu Kyi was unmonitored, unsupervised for two hours … was quite unusual and very helpful."
However she also said, "If the (Burmese) government holds elections next year, they will not be legitimate unless they engage in a dialogue with the people of Burma and create the atmosphere for free, fair and credible elections."
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Clinton told VOA there is no doubt that Burmese military leaders who have ruled since 1962 are "on the wrong side of history," but added that bringing change to Burma could be a slow process lasting years.
Clinton spoke with VOA in Manila ahead of joining President Obama in Singapore for multi-lateral meetings that could include meetings with Burmese leaders.
On China, Clinton dismissed charges by activists that the United States has refused to raise persistent human rights abuses with the Chinese government.
"We have raised human rights in every meeting that we've had with the Chinese at every level," she said. "But, again, that is part of a comprehensive engagement. It is not the only or the overriding issue…."
"We will push and prod the Chinese to open up their society, to respect the human rights of others, to respect the culture and autonomy of the Tibetans," she said. Clinton spoke in advance of President Obama's first visit to China next week, which is expected to be dominated by recent tensions over economic issues.
Clinton also confirmed Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, following the president's visit to China. The Secretary of State's interview with VOA can be heard on www.VOANews.com at www.VOANews.com/english/2009-11-13-voa6.cfm.
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