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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We're talking this week about what the United States can do to influence its friends and its enemies. And this week the U.S. Trade representative urged Asian countries to economically isolate Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. The U.S. has been stepping up the pressure since September, when thousands of monks took to the streets. The country's military government responded by tear gassing crowds, arresting hundreds of monks, and killing several protesters.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

The Bush administration forcefully condemned those actions, but it has limited leverage. The U.S. has already imposed sanctions on Myanmar - that happened 10 years ago. So now the U.S. government has decided to take a new tack and started targeting powerful individuals in Myanmar.

MONTAGNE: Adam Szubin is head of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department, and he joined us to talk about that. Good morning.

Mr. ADAM SZUBIN (Treasury Department): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, why exactly is the U.S. targeting private individuals now in Myanmar? You with the government - the administration refers to it always as Burma.

Mr. SZUBIN: Yes. The U.S. government does refer to the country as Burma. The sanctions that we've been deploying over the last couple of weeks in response to the crackdown in Burma are an attempt to use sanctions in a targeted way against individuals that are most complicit with the regime and the recent oppression that we've seen there.

MONTAGNE: It's an interesting twist, if you will, on the whole notion of sanctions. We're talking here about 12, as the U.S. calls them, individuals and entities. One of them is a tycoon and quite a big economic player. His name is Tay Za.

Mr. SZUBIN: He is a tycoon. He's also a small arms dealer. He has very close financial ties to senior leaders of the Burmese regime, including the senior general, Than Shwe. He has been sort of a crony of the regime for some time, and is alleged to have received preferential treatment in his business contracts. In return, he's a fellow who moves money for the regime and is believed to be lining their pockets.

MONTAGNE: All in all, has it been a successful strategy? Is this something you could see the U.S. doing more?

Mr. SZUBIN: This is a strategy that we're relying on increasingly because we've seen that it works. Using sanctions in a targeted way means applying them, not against necessarily an entire country to put in place, let's say, an export ban or a trade ban, but targeting those individuals or firms that are most complicit in the activity we're concerned about.

In the case of Iran, that may be proliferation; in the case of Sudan or Burma, it can be denial of human rights. A sanction that might look unilateral because the U.S. has announced it exclusively is in fact multilateral, is in fact being imposed throughout the world by financial institutions and by trading companies. And so the impact can be very severe and the sanctions, while narrow, can be extremely powerful.

MONTAGNE: Now, because of years of what we would consider traditional sanctions, there has been very little U.S. investment in Myanmar, or Burma. But there is one major U.S. entity that has a stake in that country, and that's Chevron. Will these sanctions affect Chevron?

Mr. SZUBIN: These aren't directed at external companies. These are directed at Burmese companies.

MONTAGNE: I understand that. And of course that's the subject at hand, these very specific targeted sanctions at individuals. But why wouldn't the U.S., if it's going to take this extra step and name names, point out and direct sanctions, why would Chevron be exempt?

Mr. SZUBIN: The investment of companies that were there at the time that the sanctions were announced has been, so to speak, grandfathered, and so that investment continues to be authorized; any new investment in Burma is prohibited.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very for joining us.

Mr. SZUBIN: It's my pleasure, Renee. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Adam Szubin is head of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department.

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