YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's president vowed not to turn back on his country's democratic reforms as he urged the West to lift sanctions, and even dangled the possibility of giving opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a Cabinet post.
"We are on the right track to democracy," President Thein Sein said in an interview with The Washington Post published Friday, his first with Western media. "Because we are on the right track, we can only move forward, and we don't have any intention to draw back."
Thein Sein's government took office in March, ending a half century of military rule. Since then, it has rolled out reforms at a pace that has surprised even Myanmar's staunchest critics.
Thein Sein said he felt his government had met the West's conditions for lifting sanctions by releasing many political prisoners, scheduling parliamentary elections for April 1 and allowing Suu Kyi among others to participate.
"What is needed from the Western countries is for them to do their part," he said.
Thein Sein repeatedly called for the lifting of severe economic sanctions that the U.S., European Union and others imposed while Myanmar was under military rule. He said the sanctions hurt the people of Myanmar much more than the former junta leaders and were holding back the country's economic progress.
The U.S. and European Union have praised the recent reforms, saying they will but said they will monitor how the April vote is conducted among other considerations.
Suu Kyi has said she will personally contest the elections, a historic event that could usher the Nobel laureate and former political prisoner into her first parliamentary seat.
"If the people vote for her, she will be elected and become a member of Parliament. I am sure that the Parliament will warmly welcome her. This is our plan," Thein Sein said.
Asked if he would like to see Suu Kyi in his government, Thein Sein replied: "If one has been appointed or agreed on by the Parliament, we will have to accept that she becomes a Cabinet minister."
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy could not immediately be reached for comment
After a recent visit to Myanmar, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell urged Myanmar to allow international observers for the April elections to certify they are free and fair. He also sought more moves to end ethnic violence, and for Myanmar to discontinue its relationship with North Korea, which is suspected to have sold it missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Some in the U.S. Congress maintain that there is ongoing nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
Thein Sein said the two countries have diplomatic relations but denied any military ties with North Korea.
"These are only allegations," he said. "We don't have any nuclear or weapons cooperation with (North Korea)."
Thein Sein said that the government was committed to ending the country's long-running ethnic conflicts and was currently communicating with all armed ethnic groups. Cease-fire pacts have been signed with some, including the Karen.
"Soon we will try to achieve an eternal peace in country. However, this will require time," he said.