U.S. rethinks new policy for Myanmar

Matthew Pennington
Associated Press

Washington — The Trump administration moved toward a condemnation of “ethnic cleansing” against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, as officials were preparing a recommendation for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to unequivocally use the term for the first time. Angry lawmakers on Tuesday demanded an immediate denunciation as they explored a new, tougher U.S. policy.

“My bosses have said it appears to be ethnic cleansing. I’m of that view as well,” said Patrick Murphy, a senior U.S. diplomat for Southeast Asia, while adding that the final call wasn’t his to make.

Tillerson could receive the recommendation to adopt such terminology as a matter of policy as early as this week, officials familiar with the process told The Associated Press. He would then decide whether to follow the advice of his agency’s policy experts and lawyers, which would raise pressure on the U.S. government to consider new sanctions on a country that had been lauded for its democratic transition.

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, lawmakers pressed Murphy and other administration officials to hastily clarify their view of the brutal crackdown on Muslims in Rakhine State that has caused more than 600,000 refugees to flee to Bangladesh. But U.S. officials have been weighing several factors for their policy toward the country also known as Burma, including concerns about undermining the civilian government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for the last 18 months.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine was among those calling for a clear determination “with dispatch.” Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized it “may be time for a policy readjustment.” Other lawmakers in both houses of Congress have proposed new U.S. penalties on the military, which retains significant power in Myanmar and is blamed for the violence.