WASHINGTON—Aung San Suu Kyi was driven to the White House on Wednesday afternoon to meet US President Barack Obama, who took time out from electioneering to meet his fellow Nobel laureate.
It was their first meeting and Obama expressed his admiration for Suu Kyi’s courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years.
Obama said he welcomed Burma’s democratic transition and the recent progress made by Suu Kyi, as leader of the National League for Democracy, working together with President Thein Sein, the White House said after the meeting.
“The president reaffirmed the determination of the US to support their sustained efforts to promote political and economic reforms and to ensure full protection of the fundamental rights of the Burmese people,” the White House said.
It said that during the meeting Obama expressed his conviction that the ongoing process of reconciliation and reform offers the people of Burma the opportunity to take charge of their destiny and to shape a more peaceful, free, and prosperous future.
Hours before Obama met Suu Kyi, the Obama administration lifted sanctions against the Burmese President Thein Sein and Lower House of Parliament Speaker Thura Shwe Mann by removing them from the list of Specially Designated Nationals.
This action allows them access to once-blocked property and assets, and allows transactions involving US persons or in the United States, the Department of Treasury said. “Thein Sein and Thura Shwe Mann have taken concrete steps to promote political reforms and human rights, and to move Burma away from repression and dictatorship toward democracy and freedom, warranting today’s de-listing action,” said Under Secretary of Treasury David S. Cohen.
Noting that since Thein Sein took office as president in 2011, he has supported far-reaching reforms in the country, Cohen said that he has has maintained a dialogue with Suu Kyi, granted amnesty to hundreds of political prisoners, and overseen elections in which she and other NLD members won seats in Parliament.
Shwe Mann has supported Thein Sein’s reforms and, under his leadership, the Burmese Parliament has supported democratization reforms, including passing bills granting the release of political prisoners, and a law, in consultation with the International Labor Organization, to allow for organized labor and formation of unions, the Under Secretary of Treasury said.
“The US government will continue to support those promoting reform in Burma, and remains committed to preventing those who undermine or obstruct the political reform process by seeking to perpetuate violence, oppression, and corrupt practices from participating in our countries’ growing diplomatic and economic ties,” he said.
Later in the evening, addressing a meeting of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, Sen. John McCain said Suu Kyi has been an inspiration for her fellow citizens, who look to her, to her sacrifices and to her strength.
“The power of Aung San Suu Kyi’s inspiration has defined Burma, but it has not been confined there. Hers is a global appeal. To the North Korean citizen who is choking for freedom in that totalitarian system, to men and women in the Arab world who are rising up to change the character of their countries, to the millions of long-suffering people everywhere who believe that freedom and human rights are inalienable for them too – to all of these people, their world feels more hopeful, their adversity more bearable, because they know of Aung San Suu Kyi,” McCain said.
Earlier in the day, the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, said Obama views Suu Kyi as somebody who has been a remarkable beacon for democratic reform in her country and for her people. The visit, he said, provides another opportunity to reaffirm America’s long-standing support for her struggle and the struggle of many others towards democratic, just and transparent governance in Burma.
“That struggle has lasted for many, many years, and it is certainly appropriate that she will be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of her many-year struggle in Burma, a struggle that is resulting now in her visit and in the remarkable reforms that have been undertaken by President Thein Sein in Burma,” he said. “We continue to work with President Thein Sein and the government there, as well as others, to help the cause of reform and to help the cause of the democratic process there,” Carney said.