Coinciding with American president Barack Obama’s visit to the country, Burma announced this week that it will submit to international inspection to prove that it does not maintain a clandestine nuclear program. Such inspections could alleviate Western concerns about the South Asian country’s ties with the authoritarian regime of North Korea.
The Burmese government, which is controlled by the army but has initiated a number of democratic reforms this year, said on Sunday that it would sign an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow inspections throughout the country. If such an agreement is reached, the agency’s monitors would be granted wide discretion to visit sites of their choosing, regardless of whether they have been declared nuclear related by the regime.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2009 that Burma was developing a nuclear weapons capacity with North Korean support. A United Nations report the following year accused Pyongyang of supplying nuclear and ballistic missile equipment to Burma as well as Iran and Syria in violation of international sanctions. If IAEA inspections unearth North Korean involvement in a Burmese effort to acquire weapons of mass destructions, it would be an embarrassment for the communist state which has hitherto been among the few allies of Burma’s regime.
Even if Burma has made no promises of suspending nuclear activities, the admitting of inspectors marks another step toward normalization in the former pariah state’s relations with the West and the world at large.
Earlier this year, the United States lifted sanctions that prohibited foreign investment in Burma after the country freed political prisoners, relaxed press censorship laws and held a by-election in which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament. The Americans hope to wane China’s influence in the country which is Burma’s most important strategic and trading partner.