U.S. Admiral: Myanmar Allows Flights With Supplies

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Co-host Steve Inskeep talks to Adm. Timothy Keating, head of U.S. Pacific Command, about his attempts to get Myanmar's military government to allow more relief flights into the country. The survivors of Myanmar's devastating cyclone are growing increasingly desperate as foreign aid remained at a trickle, and overstretched aid workers struggled to reach hard-hit areas.


When the first American relief plane landed in Myanmar this week, it contained supplies to respond to a cyclone. It also carried an important, passenger, the man we'll talk with next. Admiral Timothy Keating is the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, which makes him the leading American official in a vast region. He wanted to persuade Myanmar's military rules to allow in more outside aid. Now that's he's left Myanmar, Admiral Keating is on the radio with us. Good morning, sir.

Admiral TIMOTHY KEATING (Head of the U.S. Pacific Command): Steve, good morning. How are you?

INSKEEP: And we'll mention that you're in Manila. What was it like when you arrived at Yangon and started meeting Myanmar's leaders?

Adm. KEATING: We flew in in an Air Force C-130 transport plane, Steve, launched out of Utapao, Thailand, and a couple of other State Department officials were with us in the delegation. The reception we were afforded was warm and cordial and friendly. We then proceeded to a conference room and had a discussion that lasted about an hour.

INSKEEP: Some people will be baffled by the notion that you would have to persuade someone to accept aid after a cyclone.

Adm. KEATING: It is not - you're right. It isn't necessarily logical, but then that's - some would say that's Burma, or Myanmar. All decisions are made at the very, very highest level, all important decisions in the government by the prime minister himself, a senior general and the leader of the military junta, and that the same was true for our offer of aid. They acknowledged our offer, but they said it'd have to be made at a higher level.

INSKEEP: Made at a higher level than anybody that you were in the room with.

Adm. KEATING: Yeah, we had the head of the Burmese Navy with us, Vice Admiral Soe Thein. His image was quite good. He'd led the Burmese delegation of about eight or 10 folks. He listened to us, was courteous and receptive, but could not give us a decision.

INSKEEP: Is there concern that you are somehow going to use U.S. aid to undermine their regime?

Adm. KEATING: Exactly, and our assurances were quite to the contrary. We promised prompt aid. We were ready the day before we got there, Steve. That was Monday, during which we held these discussions. We said we'd come in. We wouldn't need any water. We wouldn't need any fuel. We would just need some space and permission to land and take off.

INSKEEP: And they haven't said no, but they didn't tell you yes?

Adm. KEATING: They have said yes in an interesting way. We flew a couple of C-130 sorties yesterday out of Utapao, and we flew what, we believe the number is five today. The operations are still ongoing. So in approving our flight plans, they are giving us permission - it is kind of implicit permission, Steve - but we've now flown 170,000 pounds of relief supplies into Burma, and we have reason to believe that we'll be able to fly five more C-130s tomorrow and perhaps some rotary wings, some helicopter sorties as well.

INSKEEP: So they haven't given you blanket permission, but they're approving things plane by plane, which raises the question of whether you're able to do enough this way to make a difference for two million people.

Adm. KEATING: They think it's making a difference. We met Monday, following our session in Burma with world food program and then separately with the United Nations officials, and so the non-governmental organizations are exerting every effort that they can. Other nations are contributing as well. So it's a multi-lateral, multi-national approach, and we think that it's having some effect.

INSKEEP: Admiral Keating, some people reading Time Magazine here will hear a suggestion that maybe the United States should go in without permission, in effect, invade Myanmar to aid. Is that even a remote possibility?

Adm. KEATING: I would say it is not, Steve. We have no intention of proceeding without Burmese permission. That was the reason I and the State Department, our colleagues went to Burma. And again, they didn't say no, so I think that the spigot will gradually open. But we have absolutely no intention of forcefully providing relief supplies.

INSKEEP: And I curious, since we've gone back and forth in this conversation - when you spoke with those officials, did you refer to the country as Myanmar, which is what they call it, or refer to it as Burma, which is what the United States has said that they want to call it since that had been the name before the military regime took over?

Adm. KEATING: Yeah. We chose to use the term Myanmar in discussions with our hosts inside the borders of the country. Outside, I revert to my old ways of calling it Burma, Steve. But we did not - you know, we wanted to get a yes out of them, so we chose to use the term they favor.

INSKEEP: Admiral Keating, thanks very much for your time.

Adm. KEATING: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Timothy Keating is the head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

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