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US eases sanctions, allows companies to do business with Myanmar

After 15 years of sanctions, the US will allow investment in Myanmar again. The move was the latest in a three-year push to normalize diplomatic relations with Myanmar.

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In this photo taken in March, Derek Mitchell, left, then US special envoy to Myanmar, speaks during a press conference after meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, at her residence in Yangon, Myanmar. The US Embassy in Myanmar says Mitchell, Washington's first ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation in 22 years has arrived, on the same day the US eased sanctions on Myanmar.

Khin Maung Win/AP

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The Obama administration gave permission Wednesday for American companies to invest in Myanmar and work with its state oil and gas enterprise, a go-ahead that marks the most significant easing of US sanctions against the former pariah nation.

At the same time, the administration expanded US Treasury authority to punish those who undermine the nascent political reforms and sanctioned a Myanmar military industry involved in a deal for ballistic missile technology from North Korea.

The new restrictions, imposed even as the 15-year-old ban on investment and export of financial services was eased, underscored how far the country also known as Burma has to go before it truly cleans shop after five decades of military rule.

"Today, the United States is easing restrictions to allow US companies to responsibly do business in Burma," President Barack Obama said in a statement that credited reformist President Thein Sein and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for continued progress toward democracy but also voiced deep concern over the murky investment environment.

The announcement came hours after Derek Mitchell, the first US ambassador to Myanmar in 22 years, presented his credentials in the Asian nation's remote capital. Washington has normalized diplomatic relations, the culmination of a three-year push to help Myanmar out of international isolation and lessen its reliance on its chief but distrusted ally, China.

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