WASHINGTON – After years of decrying oppression against Myanmars democracy leader, the United States got to celebrate her freedom, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi to the State Department on Tuesday at the start of her landmark tour of America.
Nine months after they met at the Nobel laureates crumbling lakeside villa in Yangon, Suu Kyi and Clinton are expected to discuss the political changes in the country also known as Burma and whether Washington should ease its remaining economic sanctions in response to the reforms.
In brief comments open to reporters at the start of their meeting, Clinton and Suu Kyi discussed the Burmese expatriate community in Fort Wayne that she will travel to during her 17-day stay. Theres so much excitement and enthusiasm that you can actually come, Clinton said.
Hours before Suu Kyi touched down in Washington, Myanmar announced Monday a new round of prisoner releases. According to Suu Kyis party, at least 87 political detainees were freed, but activists say they are disappointed that hundreds more remain behind bars.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday the U.S. has yet to identify those freed and declined to comment on whether the U.S. could soon waive its import ban.
Since Suu Kyi herself was freed from house arrest in late 2010, she has transformed from dissident to parliamentarian. Now confident of her position in Myanmar and free to travel abroad without being barred from returning, Suu Kyi has in the past four months also visited Thailand and Europe, where she was accorded honors usually reserved for heads of state.
Shes also assured of star treatment in the U.S., where shes revered by Democrats and Republicans alike. The ceremonial highlight of Suu Kyis U.S. visit will come today when she is presented Congress highest award, which she was granted in absentia in 2008 when she was still under house arrest. She is also likely to be welcomed to the White House.
Thats a powerful sign of how a former pariah state has shifted from five decades of repressive military rule, gaining international acceptance. The Obama administration has been at the forefront of the re-engagement that gathered steam when Clinton visited Myanmar last December. In July, the administration allowed U.S. companies to start investing there again.
For her to come here and collect the Congressional Gold Medal and celebrate with the activists who have stood by her for so many years is momentous, said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, which will host Suu Kyi on Thursday.
After Washington, she travels to New York, where she worked from 1969 to 1971 at the United Nations. Suu Kyi will then go to Kentucky to address the University of Louisville before traveling to meet with one of Americas largest Burmese communities in Fort Wayne. She will also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles.