Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with top government officials in Burma ahead of talks with civil society and human rights leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to discuss the country’s recent steps toward political reforms.
“The most consequential question facing this country … is whether leaders will let their people live up to their God-given potential and claim their place at the heart of the 21st century, a Pacific century,” Clinton said December 1 in the capital city, Naypyidaw. “We owe it to the nearly 60 million people who seek freedom, dignity and opportunity to do all we can to make sure that question is answered positively.”
The secretary spoke after meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and top members of parliament to discuss the country’s path toward democracy and an open economy.
“We had candid, productive conversations about the steps taken so far and the path ahead for reform,” Clinton said of the talks.
She praised President Thein Sein for taking “the first steps toward a long-awaited opening” and said his government has eased restrictions on the media and civil society, opened a dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and released 200 prisoners of conscience. Clinton said the president committed to building on these steps, and she assured him the reforms have full U.S. support.
But the secretary said these efforts are just a beginning.
“It is encouraging that political prisoners have been released, but over a thousand are still not free,” she said. “It is also encouraging that Aung San Suu Kyi is now free to take part in the political process. But that, too, will not be sufficient unless all political parties can open offices throughout the country and compete in free, fair and credible elections,” Clinton added.
The secretary said her talks with Burmese leaders covered top challenges such as national reconciliation, nuclear nonproliferation and illegal trafficking in persons, weapons and drugs.
Clinton said the officials offered assurance that political progress to address these issues will continue and broaden. She said that as it does, the United States “will actively support those, both inside and outside of government, who genuinely seek reform.”
The United States has maintained sanctions against Burma and limited its contact with government officials for decades in response to the country’s abuses against political opponents, ethnic minorities, democratic reformers and others.
Clinton, whose trip marks the first by a U.S. secretary of state to Burma in more than 50 years, said the United States is prepared to respond to recent “flickers of progress” in the country with “measured steps to lessen the isolation and help improve the lives” of Burmese citizens. She said these steps include an invitation to Burma to join neighboring countries as an observer in the Lower Mekong Initiative, assessment missions by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to study development needs and poverty reduction and resumed education and training efforts throughout the country.
She said these are beginning steps, and that the United States is prepared to go even further if reforms maintain momentum.
Clinton was scheduled to meet with Suu Kyi later December 1, ahead of meetings with civil society and ethnic group leaders the following day. Her trip comes at the direction of President Obama, who called it “an historic opportunity for progress” and a chance for Burma to forge a new relationship with the United States.