WASHINGTON — Veteran Asia hand Derek Mitchell has been confirmed as the first US special envoy to Myanmar, who will pursue President Barack Obama's policy of engaging the military-backed regime.
In addition to endorsing Mitchell, the Senate late Tuesday confirmed the appointment of career foreign service officer David Bruce Shear as the new ambassador to Vietnam, who succeeds Michael Michalak.
Mitchell fills a post that was created when Congress, under then-president George W. Bush, approved a wide-ranging law on Myanmar in 2008 that tightened sanctions.
The position was not filled at the time due to a political dispute.
After Obama took office in January 2009, his administration concluded that the sanctions aimed at isolating Myanmar had been ineffective and initiated a dialogue with the junta while maintaining the sanctions.
The United States has voiced disappointment over developments in Myanmar, including an election in November widely denounced as a sham, but has said that it sees no alternative to engagement at such a fluid time.
In his Senate confirmation hearing in June, Mitchell said he would seek "direct and candid" dialogue with Myanmar's leaders and that the United States should "respond flexibly and with agility to opportunities as they arise."
Mitchell had served until now as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.
Shear, the new ambassador to Vietnam, served as the deputy assistant secretary for east Asian and Pacific Affairs.
During a 30-year career in the foreign service, he has also served in Sapporo, Beijing, Tokyo, and Kuala Lumpur.
The Senate also confirmed Earl Anthony Wayne as the US ambassador to Mexico, replacing Carlos Pascual who resigned in March after Mexican President Felipe Calderon said leaked diplomatic cables written by him damaged bilateral ties.
The Senate was still mulling the nominations of Robert Ford to Syria and Francis Ricciardone to Turkey.
Obama temporarily appointed them to their positions in January during a recess of the Senate where their nominations had been blocked.
Ford's appointment came almost six years after Washington withdrew ambassador Margaret Scobey following the February 2005 assassination in Beirut of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri in a massive car bomb.