Suu Kyi Begins First US Visit for Two Decades

Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at Rangoon Airport before embarking on a trip to the United States on Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON—Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will be honored in Washington this week and presented Congress’s highest award, the latest milestone in her remarkable journey from political prisoner to globe-trotting stateswoman.

The Nobel Peace Laureate’s 17-day US tour, starting Monday, will include meetings at the State Department and most likely the White House. She then goes to New York, the American Midwest and California. The trip comes as the Obama administration considers easing its remaining sanctions on the military-dominated country officially known as Myanmar.

Since her release from house arrest in late 2010, Suu Kyi has transitioned from dissident to parliamentarian as Burma has shifted from five decades of repressive military rule, gaining international acceptance for a former pariah regime.

After being confined to her homeland since 1989 because she was either under detention or afraid she wouldn’t be permitted to return, Suu Kyi has in the past four months spread her wings. She has traveled to Thailand and five nations in Europe, where she was accorded honors usually reserved for heads of state.

Revered by Republicans and Democrats alike, Suu Kyi will get star treatment too in the US, although her schedule is being carefully planned to avoid upstaging the itinerary of Burmese President Thein Sein, who arrives in the US the following week to attend the UN General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders in New York.

“The idea that she will be at the Rotunda of the US Capitol, to receive the highest award Congress can give, just a couple of years after she was under house arrest in her own country, is just remarkable,” said Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, one of the lawmakers who sponsored her 2008 award of the Congressional Gold Medal.

For years, some of Washington’s most powerful politicians have been among Suu Kyi’s strongest advocates, and it’s been a rare area of bipartisan consensus. Both when sanctions against the Burmese junta were imposed, and over the past year when they have been suspended, Democrats and Republicans have found common cause.

The Obama administration is now considering easing a ban on imports from Myanmar into the US, the main plank remaining in the tough economic sanctions that Washington has chipped away at this year to reward the progress toward democracy.

While Congress last month renewed sanctions for another year, President Barack Obama could waive its provisions. He may, however, look for further concrete action by Burma to earn it—such as the releases of hundreds of political prisoners who remain in detention despite the freeing of hundreds of other dissidents this year.

Suu Kyi is under political pressure from Thein Sein’s government to press the US to remove the restrictions—and it is a step that she appears open to, although many of her longtime supporters in exile oppose it, saying Burma should not be rewarded at a time when ethnic violence is escalating in some parts of the country.

“We don’t want to say whether the US should maintain the import ban or not,” Suu Kyi’s party spokesman Nyan Win said ahead of her visit. “I understand the US is keeping the import ban because they want to keep a watch on the country’s political and economic reform and I think the US should continue to observe [the situation].”

Combining high-level meetings with award ceremonies and get-togethers with Burmese expatriates, Suu Kyi will have a frenetic schedule in the US.

She spends four days in Washington, where she will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—who made a landmark visit to Burma last December—and House and Senate leaders. The White House has yet to announce whether she will meet President Barack Obama. Suu Kyi will also address human rights activists and meet Burmese journalists at Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

She then travels to New York, where she worked from 1969-71 at the United Nations. Her schedule is carefully arranged not to clash with Thein Sein’s but she is slated to attend a high-level meeting organized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a day before the Burmese president addresses the General Assembly.

Suu Kyi will then go to Kentucky—home state of Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell—to address the University of Louisville, before traveling to meet with one of America’s largest Burmese communities in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She will also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles.

4 Responses to Suu Kyi Begins First US Visit for Two Decades

  1. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    Her actions have been louder than her words with the provision of pragmatic and viable solutions to all immediate barriers along the path of democracy in Burma. She is the leader of people before the profit, honest politician in history of Burma, the mother of Burma democracy, and eye opener of Burmese military in new chapter of modem Burma.

    All her actions since day one of her participation to Burma politic that include from being activist, to Burma democracy movement leader, from political prisoner to state-woman have resulted more about to the benefit of people rather than ideology differences. Her trip to America will definitely be another step move forward of Burma Democracy and unity in Burma struggle for Democracy. Burma is very lucky to have such a leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  2. Is ignorance bliss for democracy champion, Suu Kyi? All real fighters have to enter arena, but only cowards dodge challenges.. Remember that. You still have time, so use it wisely before you’re punched by critics.

  3. George Than Setkyar Heine

    There she blows into the ANNALS of HISTORY and POSTERITY of BURMA as well no less.
    Than Shwe’s clerk is going on a PILGRIMAGE to Beijing as SUMMONED by his Chinese masters of course.
    And next he is heading US way ARMED with LETHAL WEAPONS dispensed by the Chinese communists no doubt.
    This PROVED the FACT Than Shwe’s clerk is PLAYING SECOND FIDDLE to the communists in Beijing until today trust me.
    Of course the US led West as well is REELING at the moment as their POLICY on CHINA – making princes out of paupers – has failed miserably as well.
    Hu Jin Tao has PULLED A FAST ONE on the WEST I believed.
    And XI JINGPING is OUT to PULL a BETTER ONE than before lest Obama forgets.
    Daw Suu could be in HOT WATERS no less when she lands in the US where ISLAMISTS of ALL HUE and COLOR are waiting to LEAN on HER no doubt. .
    She HELD HER FORT (ground) WELL for that matter (Rohingya illegal immigration issue) while in Burma of course.
    And PLAYING the GAME the SAME WAY and in the SAME MANNER would SERVE HER for the BETTER this time as well no doubt.
    Just let Thein Sein take the rap as he is Than Shwe’s chosen president of Burma and by hell he has to measure up for that matter to be fair and just as well.
    However, it could be a DIFFERENT STORY when China uses its WA (UWSA) CARD in the very near future for certain as well lest she forgets.
    And when that happens Daw Suu needs Obama and his colleagues in the West to MUSTER ALL at their DISPOSAL and STAND TALL for her and her people like the communists in Beijing and Russia under the former KGB officer did for ASSAD killing his own people by the tens of thousands today while the US led West is CLUELESS and HELPLESS for that matter not to mention Iran’s Ahmadinejad toying with nuclear weapons research, a death knell and a present and real danger for mankind today.

  4. Welcome to America, Daw Suu. We the children of the Union of Burma are so proud of you. I hope Americans will understand about the Union of Burma and her citizens more than before though your visit. You are not only the VIP to the American government and the UN, but also to all of us.

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