The U.S. Offer to Burma

In a DOD press briefing today, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Timothy Keating described what he told Burmese officials earlier this month about the U.S. military’s ability to assist in the distribution of aid in Burma. Keating traveled with USAID director Henrietta Foe on the first relief flight into Burma on May 11. Since then, Keating said, the U.S. military has flown about 70 missions carrying 1.4 million pounds of relief supplies to Yangon. But, despite the seemingly generous terms which Keating recounted in today’s press conference, the government of Myanmar has yet to allow the U.S. military to assist in the distribution of relief supplies within Burma itself:

We went upstairs at the terminal there and spent about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes with our Burmese colleagues. Henrietta Fore led the discussion as the lead delegate from State.

I spoke for, I’ll say, five or 10 minutes and reassured the Burmese delegation of a couple of points. One, we were ready to provide relief assistance immediately. Two, we were capable of moving 250,000 pounds or so a day of relief material into Burma. We were capable of moving it from the central distribution point there at Rangoon out to the areas needing the equipment, the relief supplies, using our medium and heavy-lift helicopters, of which we have about a dozen in Thailand and another dozen on the USS Essex group, which is off the southwest coast in the Bay of Bengal.

I assured our Burmese colleagues that we would do this without fingerprint. That is, we wouldn’t need any gas, we wouldn’t need any fuel — gas fuel, we wouldn’t need any food, we wouldn’t need any lodging. We would come in, be entirely self-sufficient. We would come in, if they chose, at first light and leave every evening. We offered them the opportunity to put their own military members or civilians, they’re choice, on our airplanes, on our helicopters. And I delivered a written letter of invitation to have a Burmese delegation visit the USS Essex off the coast, should they so choose, so as to observe our operations.

And I said when we were concluded, when our operations concluded, that would be a mutual decision, but once you tell us we’re done, we will leave, you will not know we were here. So we went to great lengths to try and assure them and reassure them that we had no, you know, military intentions here; we wanted to provide relief, and we were capable of doing that already.

The delegation accepted my comments and said, “We understand, we acknowledge, but we cannot approve. This decision has to be made at the very highest levels of our government, and we will take your recommendation to the highest levels of our government.”