President Barack Obama said Saturday his new policy of direct communication with Myanmar's ruling generals was built on the failure of U.S. sanctions to change the behavior of the country's leaders.
Obama said in a major speech on the Asia-Pacific region in Tokyo that Myanmar _ also known as Burma _ must take steps to "unconditionally release" all political prisoners, including longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Reform on human rights will bring the country "true security and prosperity."
"Despite years of good intentions, neither sanctions by the U.S. nor engagement of others have succeeded in improving the lives of Burmese people," Obama said in his speech.
The Myanmar military government has run a repressive regime for years but has not budged from that course despite severe sanctions by the United States.
"So we are now communicating directly with the leadership to make it clear that existing sanctions will remain until there are concrete steps toward democratic reform," Obama said "There are clear steps that must be taken."
In addition to releasing all political prisoners, Myanmar authorities need to end conflicts with minority groups and have "genuine dialogue" with the democratic opposition and those minority groups, the president said.
Should Myanmar move in that direction, it can build a better relationship with the U.S. and bring the country security and prosperity, he said.
On Sunday, Obama will attend the first-ever meeting of leaders from the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. They will meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore. Obama is to sit at the same table with Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein.
The Myanmar government has said it intends to hold elections next year but has not clarified whether Suu Kyi will be allowed to participate.