NAYPYITAW, Myanmar – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein on Thursday to discuss how the reclusive regime can continue its reform efforts and enter the international mainstream.
“I am here today because President Obama and myself are encouraged by the steps that you and your government have taken to provide for your people,” Clinton said.
Sein called the secretary’s visit “historic” and a “new chapter” for Myanmar. Clinton presented Myanmar’s president with a letter from President Obama. The meeting took place at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw and lasted several hours.
In her remarks to reporters after the meeting, Clinton said while the progress that Myanmar has taken is welcome it is just a start. She called on the country to release all political prisoners, hold free and fair elections and sever its “illicit ties with North Korea.”
The U.S. has long suspected that Mynamar might be working with North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons. Taking a frank tone, Clinton said, “the most consequential question facing this country is not its relationship with America or any other nation. It is whether leaders will let their people live up to their God-given potential and claim their place at the heart of a Pacific Century? Or will this country, once again, be left behind?”
Clinton said the United States is prepared to take steps that would lessen Myanmar's isolation including: an invitation to join a regional development initiative as an observer, allowing the IMF and World Bank assessment missions to start studying needs on the ground and possibly a joint effort to recover the remains of Americans who were lost during World War II – a step that helped the U.S. repair relations with Vietnam.
In the long term the United States said they are discussing upgrading diplomatic relations with Myanmar and exchanging ambassadors. The United States hasn’t had an ambassador in the region for more than two decades.
Clinton ended her remarks with a challenge to Myanmar: “President Obama spoke of ‘flickers of progress’ we know from history that flickers can die out. They can be stamped out. It will be up to the leaders of this country to fan flickers of progress into a flame of freedom that lights the path toward a better future.”
On Thursday evening Clinton met pro-democracy leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for a private home of the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Myanmar before a more formal meeting at Suu Kyi's residence on Friday.
Suu Kyi was a political prisoner in the country for the better part of the past two decades and was just released last year. She recently announced she would re-enter the political process.
It is the first time the pair have met in person, though they have spoken by telephone. Clinton will also present her with a letter from Obama.