Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi were having a private dinner at the home of the top-ranking US diplomat in Myanmar today before a more formal meeting at Suu Kyi’s residence on Friday. It is the first time the pair — two of the world’s most recognized female political figures — have met in person, though they have spoken by telephone. Clinton has often referred to Suu Kyi as a personal inspiration.
Meeting earlier with President Thein Sein and other senior government officials in the capital of Naypyidaw, Clinton offered a small package of rewards for steps it had already taken but made clear that more must be done.
“I came to assess whether the time is right for a new chapter in our shared history,” she said, adding that the U.S. was ready to further improve relations with the civilian government in the Southeast Asian nation — also known as Burma — but only if it stays on the path of democratization.
In a series of modest first steps, she announced that Washington would allow Myanmar’s participation in a U.S.-backed grouping of Mekong River countries; no longer block enhanced cooperation between the country and the International Monetary Fund; and support intensified U.N. health, microfinance and counternarcotics programs.
A senior U.S. official said Thein Sein had outlined his government’s plans for reform in a 45-minute presentation in which he acknowledged that Myanmar lacked a recent tradition of democracy and openness. He asked for U.S. help in making the transition from military to full civilian rule, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private diplomatic exchange.
US President Barack Obama offered Myanmar a new era in relations if it reforms and promised democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi his eternal support in letters hand-delivered by Clinton today.
Picture Saul Loeb, Pool / AP