The move marks Biden's first implementation of new sanctions, a punitive tool with varying effectiveness. The White House did not announce names of current and former military leaders who will be targeted or other details.
Biden said he had approved an executive order "enabling us to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests, as well as close family members."
Biden said his order will block the generals' access to some $1 billion in assets in the United States.
It is not yet clear whether the United States is going after the country's longtime military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who is now the nation's de facto leader, or how onerous the new penalties will be on military figures thought to control assets in other countries. Many senior military leaders in Myanmar are already under sanctions imposed in protest of military action against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
"The military must relinquish power it seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma," the president said at the White House, using another name for the country.
Biden also renewed the U.S. call for the elected leadership to be released, including deposed de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military took power by force on Feb. 1, claiming that the victory by Suu Kyi's pro-democracy political party had been fraudulent. Military leaders promised a new election in one year and placed Suu Kyi and others in detention.
"The people of Burma are making their voices heard, and the world is watching," Biden said. "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."
Demonstrators have filled city streets in Myanmar, demanding that the military restore civilian leadership and release more than 150 political detainees. The protests have continued despite the threat that authorities might use military force to clear the crowds.
On Sunday, demonstrators in Yangon massed near the iconic Sule Pagoda, the site of major pro-democracy uprisings in previous decades, defied the military by holding up three fingers in a gesture of resistance popularized by the "Hunger Games" series.
In response to the protests, the military has banned gatherings of more than five people and implemented a curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. in Yangon and Mandalay, the country's two biggest cities. The military also banned the use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for citizens "until further notice."
The events appeared to end a march toward democratic rule in Myanmar over the past decade. The military, long the most important nonreligious institution in the country, had gradually relinquished direct control over the government, released Suu Kyi from house arrest and invited foreign investment, including from the United States.
The Obama administration had encouraged these efforts, dropping some sanctions and broadening its diplomatic and economic outreach. As vice president, Biden had supported those moves.
On Wednesday, Biden noted that U.S. efforts to encourage democracy in Myanmar have been bipartisan and said his administration had consulted with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to McConnell on Wednesday morning about the latest U.S. efforts related to Myanmar, a McConnell aide said.
"I appreciate the President's ongoing engagement with Congress on prompt and practical steps to restore democracy in Burma," McConnell said in a statement. "I hope all nations that respect democracy and the rule of law will join the U.S. in imposing meaningful costs and accountability on the junta."
Across a range of global issues, the Biden administration has stressed its emphasis on coordinating with U.S. allies to address the biggest challenges the country faces. When asked why Biden's sanctions announcement did not coincide with measures from U.S. allies, State Department spokesman Ned Price suggested that such moves would be imminent.
"As you hear more from our partners, it'll be very clear that what we are collectively rolling out will impose steep and profound costs on those responsible for this coup," Price told reporters Wednesday.
In recent days, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has raised the Biden administration's "deep concern over the coup in Burma" during his discussions with Asian partners in the region, including in calls with the foreign minister of Singapore on Tuesday and with Vietnam's foreign minister and deputy prime minister last Thursday.
Published : February 11, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Anne Gearan, John Hudson