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Most journalists I know hate the word "dialogue." Mostly because it's a favorite of uncooperative or boring interviewees.
You ask a question seeking the specifics of a political conflict. And they start talking about "dialogue." How they want to establish it, spark it or foster it. It's a lame dodge that rarely imparts anything revelatory to reporter, or more importantly, the reader.
But sometimes, in a place as reclusive as Burma, "dialogue" itself is news.
I've just returned from a briefing by Obama administration diplomats, who recently arranged a sit-down with Burma's autocratic junta and Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's imprisoned democracy icon. The talks were led by an assistant secretary of state, the highest-ranking U.S. official to negotiate with the junta in well over a decade.
Back in Bangkok, a packed room full of reporters wanted to know all the details of the trip: the results, the next steps, even the Burmese generals' body language.
So did I. But the diplomat behind the microphones wouldn't go much further than to say the U.S. wants "dialogue." Between the U.S. and Burma. And between the Burmese people and the junta, whose state-sponsored killing and force labor violations are well-documented.
The junta is planning a 2010 election that most observers assume will be rigged. But America's hope is that all this dialogue will set the stage for a little less oppression and a little more freedom.
"We're going into this with our eyes wide open," said Scot Marciel, U.S. ambassador for the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "We've not been under any illusions that this would be easy."
Even if this is just dialogue, relations between the U.S. and Burma have been so cold for so long that high-level talks do represent forward movement. Few expect miracles, Marciel said, especially given that all of their diplomatic precursors have failed.
America's risk of opening dialogue with the junta is looking for foolish for trusting the junta. But the potential payoff -- political prisoners freed, a halt to Burma's nuclear ambitions -- is huge.
So for now, given the extraordinary circumstances, the diplomats get a pass for heavy emphasis on the D-word.
"As to whether they ignored us," Marciel said, "time will tell."