Little noticed in the warm glow of President Barack Obama’s landmark visit to Myanmar was a significant concession that could shed light on whether that nation’s powerful military pursued a clandestine nuclear weapons program, possibly with North Korea’s help.
Myanmar announced it would sign an international agreement that would require it to declare all nuclear facilities and materials. Although it would be up to Myanmar to decide what to declare, it could provide some answers concerning its acquisition of dual-use machinery and military cooperation with Pyongyang that the US and other nations regard as suspect.
President Thein Sein’s agreement to allow more scrutiny by UN nuclear inspectors suggests a willingness to go beyond democratic reforms that have improved relations with Washington and culminated in Obama’s visit this week, the first by a US President to the country also known as Burma.
David Albright and Andrea Stricker of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based non-proliferation group, said in an analysis it was a “remarkable decision”.
“This latest move by Burma is extremely positive for its ongoing push for openness about the nuclear issue and for building confidence and transparency with the international community,” they wrote.
However, there are also major doubts about how much Myanmar will divulge. Republican Sen Richard Lugar, the most prominent voice in Congress on non-proliferation, said international concern would persist until Myanmar gives full disclosure of its relationship with Pyongyang.
After two decades of diplomatic isolation by the US, the Obama administration’s active engagement with Myanmar has encouraged the former pariah regime into making political reforms, reflected by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to Parliament. Myanmar also agreed this week, after years of prodding, to open its notorious prisons to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
But until now, there has been little public indication of progress on security issues.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a visit last December that better US relations with Myanmar would only be possible “if the entire Government respects the international consensus against the spread of nuclear weapons.”