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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to travel to Burma next month, US officials say, in what will mark the most senior-level visit by a US diplomat in nearly half a century.
An official in Washington told AP today that President Obama would likely announce the decision today after meeting with regional ministers in Bali, where the US is attending the 44th ASEAN summit.
It comes after a flurry of visits in the last two months to Burma by senior US officials, including envoy Derek Mitchell and Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner.
Obama reportedly phoned Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday from his Air Force One plane to gauge the Nobel laureate’s opinions on US attempts to engage with the Burmese government. Following her approval, ABC News says, the US president asked Clinton to travel to Burma.
In a statement released today, Obama said: “For decades, Americans have been deeply concerned about the denial of basic human rights for the Burmese people. The persecution of democratic reformers, the brutality shown towards ethnic minorities, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few military leaders has challenged our conscience, and isolated Burma from the United States and much of the world.
“Yet after years of darkness, we’ve seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks … we want to seize what could be an historic opportunity for progress, and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America.”
Attempts by Washington to court the government in Naypyidaw have dramatically intensified in recent months, following years of isolation and criticism. Clinton said in Hawaii last week that the US could see itself as a future “partner” of Burma in light of the “first stirrings of change in decades”, although it has continued to press for greater reform, including the release of political prisoners.
The détente comes at a time when the US is growing increasingly anxious about China’s political and economic grip on the Asia-Pacific region, and Washington has made little secret about its desire to regain a foothold here after years spent watching its influence wane.
Critics of the Burmese government say that recent political reforms, while promising, mask continued human rights abuses, particularly in the country’s border regions where Burmese troops are engaged in bloody conflict with ethnic minority armies.