WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that the United States is moving toward exchanging ambassadors with Myanmar, as a reward for reforms by the military-backed government.
Echoing President Barack Obama in hailing the release of political prisoners, Clinton said she is also instructing State Department officials to identify "further steps" Washington can take to support the reforms.
"In consultation with members of Congress and at the direction of President Obama, we will start the process of exchanging ambassadors with Burma," Clinton said in a statement.
"We will identify a candidate to serve as US ambassador to represent the United States government and our broader efforts to strengthen and deepen our ties with both the people and the government," the chief US diplomat added.
She said the effort will be a "lengthy process" that depends on continued reforms, saying she was fulfilling her promise to "meet action for action" that she made during a landmark visit last month to Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Myanmar and the United States have diplomatic relations but the head of the US mission in Myanmar is a charge d'affaires, a step below ambassador.
Clinton said she would telephone Myanmar President Thein Sein and opposition leader and democracy icon Aung Sang Suu Kyi at the weekend to show American commitment in support of reforms being undertaken.
Clinton also said she "warmly" welcomes the ceasefire agreement signed this week between Myanmar and Karen rebels, who have been fighting one of the world's longest-running civil conflicts.
She also urged "the government to enter into meaningful dialogue with all ethnic groups."
In hailing the prisoner releases, Clinton said "this is a momentous day for the diverse people" of the Southeast Asian nation.
Myanmar earlier pardoned prominent dissidents, journalists and a former premier under a major prisoner amnesty, intensifying a surprising series of reforms by the army-backed regime.
The amnesty included members of the "88 Generation Students" group, which is synonymous with the democratic struggle in Myanmar and was at the forefront of a failed 1988 uprising in which thousands died.