In brief remarks, the President said he had approved a new executive order allowing the United States to “immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members.” He said they would identify targets of those sanctions this week.
“The US government is taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the one billion dollars in Burmese government funds held in the United States,” Biden noted.
“We’re also going to impose strong export controls,” he added. “We’re freezing US assets that benefit the Burmese government while maintaining our support for health care, civil society groups and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly,” he said, using another name for Myanmar.
Biden called on the military junta to release detained protesters and civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint and cease their crackdowns on demonstrators.
“The military must relinquish power they’ve seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma, as expressed in their November 8 election,” he said, stressing that the issue remains of bipartisan and international concern.
“We’ll be ready to impose additional measures and we’ll continue to work with our international partners to urge other nations to join us in these efforts,” Biden said.
Earlier on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the effort would go beyond unilateral actions to include “working with our partners and allies, including in the region, to determine the right ways to put pressure on and have engagement.”
She added that there are “ongoing discussions and talks with our partners and allies in Asia and Europe, and you know there’s certainly a recognition that this will need to be a coordinated effort.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that “the international community is attempting every avenue to ensure that democracy and civilian leadership is restored in Burma.”
“We are making no bones about where we stand when it comes to the military’s need to relinquish power,” Price said. “We are undertaking a careful review of the assistance that we provide to Burma and with an eye towards ensuring that those responsible for this coup do face significant consequences.”
Myanmar’s top military officials, including armed forces commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing, have already been sanctioned for their roles in human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The military has been accused of committing atrocities including mass killings and rape against the Muslim minority population, forcing nearly a million people to flee. The UN has recommended that top military officials face genocide charges. Suu Kyi, one of the now deposed civilian leaders, called reports of genocide “misinformation.”
The armed forces seized control of the country last week after detaining top government figures, including leader Suu Kyi, after months of increasing friction between the civilian government and the military, known as the Tatmadaw, over alleged election irregularities.
The State Department’s efforts to make contact with Suu Kyi have been denied, Price said Tuesday.
In response, the country’s military has sought to limit access to the internet and news services, as well as floating a potential new cyber security law that observers fear could further limit the flow of information.
While Biden and his administration stressed that sanctions will only target Myanmar’s military leaders, concern remains that such measures could impact the lives of innocent people. The wide-reaching sanctions the US imposed against the military junta that ruled Myanmar in the 1990s and 2000s proved to have a devastating effect on the country’s economy, and some analysts argue the measures impacted the lives of ordinary citizens more than the military.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi spoke by phone Wednesday and “discussed ways to strengthen cooperation with allies and partners to address the military coup in Burma,” the State Department said.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Kate Sullivan, DJ Judd, Betsy Klein and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.