WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will meet privately with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday at the White House, a U.S. official said.
The talks, the first between the two Nobel Peace laureates, follows Suu Kyi’s expression of support on Tuesday for an easing of U.S. sanctions on her country even as she warned that Myanmar’s reforms had cleared only the “first hurdle.”
Obama, seeking re-election in November, seized the chance to meet Suu Kyi on the second day of her two-week U.S. tour. The encounter could help him highlight what many see as a foreign policy accomplishment of his administration in helping to push Myanmar’s generals onto the path of democratic change.
Obama will treat Suu Kyi to a meeting in the Oval Office, normally reserved for visiting foreign presidents and prime ministers. But the White House, possibly not wanting to stoke tensions with Myanmar’s government, planned a private session with no reporters or cameras present.
Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy in opposition to a military junta that held her under house arrest for years, began her tour on Tuesday with talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Suu Kyi did not specify which of the complex web of sanctions that Washington began phasing out this year she wanted removed. State Department officials did not indicate that she made any formal requests on sanctions during talks with Clinton.
In remarks later at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Suu Kyi said the economic sanctions were a useful tool for putting pressure on Myanmar’s military government in the past, but now the people need to consolidate democracy without outside help.
Suu Kyi, whose last stay in the United States was in the 1970s as a United Nations employee, will visit the large emigre community from her country in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and make a series of public speeches from New York to California.
Suu Kyi’s election to parliament in April helped to transform the pariah image of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and convince the West to begin rolling back sanctions after a year of dramatic reforms, including the release of about 700 political prisoners in amnesties between May 2011 and July.
Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, early in his term with no concrete foreign policy successes on his record, leading critics to say he was rewarded mostly for eloquent speech-making. (Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by David Brunnstrom)