Prior to Secretary Clinton’s groundbreaking trip to Burma, we commented on the flap surrounding Burma’s nuclear and missile ambitions, as well as evidence of conventional arms sales by North Korea. David Albright, Andrea Stricker and colleagues over at the Institute for Science and International Security have a useful archive on the Burma-North Korea connection, as well as an update on Clinton’s trip posted on the same page.
The main accomplishment of the trip appears to be assurances from Burma’s president, Thein Sein, that the country was committed to United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea. Thein Sein also suggested that it would “consider” signing the IAEA Additional Protocol, which would grant greater discretion to conduct inspections at suspicious sites.
The Albright-Stricker update also directed us to the source of the information (or disinformation) on North Korea: the Democratic Voice of Burma. An independent, anti-regime news source, the DVB maintain a massive archive on Burma’s nuclear ambitions, including a report by Robert Kelley and Ali Fowler called simply "Nuclear Related Activities in Burma." The single source for their material is a former Burmese Army Major, Sai Thein Win. There can be little doubt that the US intelligence community has looked at this dossier. But from a cursory read, it seems to contain a grab-bag of activities that may or may not be related to pursuit of nuclear weapons (for example, research programs on isotopes for medical and agricultural purposes; equipment that might or might not be related to fissile material or weaponization; conflation of reports about missiles and nuclear weapons, and so on). However, we can only report the “he said, she said”: Albright and Stricker conclude that “Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) allegations and defector interviews claiming that Burma had or has a nuclear weapons research program remain unsubstantiated and poorly evidenced.”
Going into the trip, the Secretary promised to take a hard look at the issue, but sent signals that the administration doubted that Burma was pursuing a nuclear course. Coming out of the trip, an anonymous spokesman sounded more definite, stating that “we do not see signs of a substantial effort at this time" on nuclear arms (yes, we did see the word “substantial.”) Clinton’s last press conference on the trip focused entirely on engagement, humanitarian and political issues and made no reference to the issue. Maybe the tough talk was just political cover and the DPRK-Burma connection wasn’t in fact a priority of the trip after all (cf. the Lugar file).