December 02, 2011

Suu Kyi Endorses U.S. Contact With Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar—The U.S. push to re-engage with the outcast nation of Myanmar got an enthusiastic boost from Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday morning outside the very house where she once spent years under house arrest for her opposition to the Myanmar military government.

Clinton Meets Suu Kyi

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Aung San Suu Kyi, left, and Hillary Clinton ate dinner together during their visit.
"I am very confident that if we all work together—and I mean the government, the opposition, and the U.S.—that there will be no turning back from the road to democracy," said Ms. Suu Kyi after a 90-minute meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "But we are not on that road yet," she added.
Secretary Clinton, on the last day of her historic visit to Myanmar, met with longtime opposition figures and representatives of ethnic minorities and civil society groups. The meetings were part of a lightning push to gauge just how real the Myanmar government's appetite for reform is, after the new government launched a series of limited but important reforms earlier this year.
Mrs. Clinton praised Ms. Suu Kyi for her "steadfast" leadership of the democracy movement in Myanmar, and said her meetings with Myanmar government officials had given her "some grounds for encouragement" about the success of the government's reform drive. She reiterated that the goal of U.S. engagement is to help Myanmar transition to democracy and "take its rightful place in the world" after decades as a pariah.
Since the new government took office earlier this year following Myanmar's first elections in two decades, it has freed hundreds of political prisoners, loosened restrictions on the Internet and the media, and made tentative steps toward opening the democratic system. The pace of those reforms helped convince even longtime skeptics such as Ms. Suu Kyi that the reform effort appears genuine, and prompted the visit by Mrs. Clinton, the first by a U.S. secretary of state in more than fifty years.
Ms. Suu Kyi's endorsement of the current reform drive is especially important because U.S. efforts to engage with the long-isolated Myanmar regime have floundered in the past. She is expected to run for a seat in parliament when the government schedules the next election; it recently took steps to remove a longtime ban on her political party.
Ms. Suu Kyi spoke of the country's needs after decades of international isolation, including a decade and a half of Western sanctions that are still in place. She praised a U.S. decision to allow assessment teams from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank back into the country to begin tallying the country's many deficits and assess potential reforms.
She said that "two of the greatest needs" Myanmar has are for rule of law and an end to the decades-long civil wars that have wracked regions of the country populated by ethnic minorities.
"All hostilities must cease as soon as possible," she said, adding that rule of law would be essential to ensuring the release of hundreds of political prisoners. Both are also key U.S. demands of the Myanmar government.
Ms. Suu Kyi closed her remarks, on her veranda overlooking a lake in downtown Yangon, by thanking President Barack Obama and the U.S. for their diplomatic outreach in recent months. She stressed the "careful and calibrated way in which they are approaching engagement" with Myanmar, before wrapping Secretary Clinton in a tight embrace.

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