WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday dismissed Myanmar’s decision to cut prison terms, saying it fell short of the reform necessary to prompt Washington to further normalize ties. “It’s not a step of the magnitude that we would be interested in matching,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing. Myanmar state media said on Monday that President Thein Sein had commuted death sentences to life in prison and cut terms served by other prisoners in a gesture to mark Independence Day on Jan. 4, when the country formerly known as Burma marks its 1948 independence from British rule. The presidential order did not appear to cover political prisoners, which Western governments including the United States say should be released before they can lift economic sanctions imposed during a period of military rule.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar in December and said Washington could further open to the country if its new civilian government undertook greater reforms including a release of political prisoners and greater democratic openness. But Nuland said on Tuesday that Washington, like the rest of the international community, wanted to see all political prisoners freed. “We wanted to see this as soon as possible. We didn’t set any timeline on it, but we made clear that it was one of the vital steps before which it would be difficult for us to make significantly more steps towards normalization on our own side.” U.S. officials say there are about 1,000 political prisoners still behind bars in Myanmar, although some watchdog groups put the number lower. Myanmar in October released around 230 political prisoners, one of a series of steps that prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to endorse tentative moves to open to the country after decades of diplomatic isolation.