Praise and Pressure for Barack Obama on Historic Myanmar Visit

NEW YORK | Monday, November 19th, 2012 4:16am EDT

President Obama became the first serving U.S. president to visit Myanmar on Monday, trying during a fast 6-hour trip to strike a balance between praising the government’s progress in shaking off military rule and pressing for more reform.

Barack Obama Historic Myanmar Visit 01

US President Barack Obama (R) and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) hold a brief joint press conference at her residence in Yangon, on November 19, 2012. Obama arrived in Myanmar for a historic visit aimed at encouraging a string of dramatic political reforms in the former pariah state. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

This president’s Asia tour also marks his formal come back to the world arena after busy months of bruising re-election campaign. For his first postelection trip, he tellingly settled on Asia, a region he has deemed the region as crucial to U.S. prosperity and security, the Reporter says.

Barack Obama became the first American president to visit Myanmar on Monday, using a six-hour trip to balance U.S. approval of the country’s progress in shaking off military rule with pressure to complete the process of democratic reform.

President Obama showered praise and promises of more U.S. help to Myanmar if the Asian nation keeps building its new democracy. “Our goal is to sustain the momentum,” he declared with pride as the first U.S. president to visit here.

After a warm welcome for Air Force One, Barack Obama met President Thein Sein, the Myanmar’s reformist, and called on the former general to speed up the country’s march out of decades of iron-fisted military rule.

President Thein Sein responded that the two sides would move forward, “based on mutual trust, respect and understanding”.

He also added: “We also reached agreement for the development of democracy in Myanmar and for promotion of human rights to be aligned with international standards.”

The Daily News writes, after meeting with President Thein Sein, who has orchestrated much of his country’s transition to democracy, Obama said the reforms “in Myanmar” could unleash “the incredible potential of this beautiful country.”

Obama told reporters: “This is just the first step on what will be a long journey.”

President Obama removed his shoes during a brief visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, a gold-plated spire encrusted with diamonds and rubies that is the spiritual centre of Burmese Buddhism.

He later stood side by side with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi at the lakeside villa where his fellow Nobel laureate languished for years under house arrest, as the presidential limousine sat parked outside.

According to the Daily News, Obama met with Suu Kyi in the very home where she spent years under house arrest, a gated compound with a lawn ringed by roses.

The president has trumpeted Suu Kyi’s support of his outreach efforts, saying she was “very encouraging” of his trip.

Aung San Suu Kyi commented on the help from America: “We are confident that this support will continue through the difficult years that lie ahead. The most difficult time in any transition is when you think that success is in sight. We have to be very careful that we’re not lured by a mirage of success.”

Obama told her that if the nation’s leaders keep making true reforms, “we will do everything we can to ensure success.”

The president was then on his way to give a televised speech at the University of Yangon, in which he would deliver the same message. Obama planned to tell his audience that the United States is ready to “extend the hand of friendship” now that Myanmar has unclenched its fist of iron rule.

The place chosen for the speech was rich in symbolism. The university holds memories of pro-democratic student unrest, including mass demonstrations in 1988 that ended in a bloody military crackdown.

 

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