Suu Kyi Readies for Grueling US Tour

By Lalit K Jha 18 September 2012

WASHINGTON DC—The leader of Burmese opposition party, the National League of Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, arrived in the US capital on Monday ahead of a grueling 17-day tour of the country, during which she is scheduled to meet a multitude of personalties, including President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and some of her fellow Nobel laureates. She is also scheduled to receive the US Congress’ highest civilian honor.

On her first visit to the US since she was released from house arrest in late 2010, Suu Kyi will visit the United Nations headquarters in New York, and travel to Kentucky, Indiana (which has a sizeable Burmese population), New Haven in Connecticut, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, the Burmese pro-democracy icon is scheduled to meet with Clinton who will deliver introductory remarks at an event to honor her, which has been jointly organized by the US Institute of Peace, the Asia Society and the US State Department. She is also likely to visit the White House, sources said.

“[Aung San Suu Kyi has] been a very strong voice for continued ties between our country for education, for reform, all those kinds of things,” said the State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, at her daily news briefing. “The Secretary [of State] takes counsel with her whenever she can, and I think they’ll have another opportunity for that tomorrow.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Nuland said, “The changes and reform steps that we’ve seen in Burma in the last year are qualitatively and quantitatively broader and deeper than we had seen at any time before, with the allowing of Suu Kyi’s party to run, with release of prisoners, with the outreach to all of the minority groups. There’s obviously a lot more to be done, and we will talk to both Daw Suu Kyi and to President Thein Sein about that going forward.”

During the Washington-leg of her trip, Suu Kyi is expected to meet a host of US lawmakers who will host a private reception for her in addition to presenting her with the Congressional Gold Medal award on Wednesday, which is the highest civilian award bestowed by the US Congress.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Jennifer Quingley from the US Campaign for Burma said, “Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to the United States is an opportunity for her to thank those who have campaigned for her release and championed the movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. But it is also a time to discuss the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead. The fight for democracy and human rights for the people of Burma is far from over, her visit should reinvigorate her supporters to continue the struggle.”

Also while in Washington, Suu Kyi will receive the Global Vision Award from the Asia Society, and will give a speech when the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2012 Democracy Award is bestowed upon five of her compatriots. The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute will honor her at a dinner on Wednesday.

After a four-day stay in Washington, Suu Kyi travels to New York on September 21 where she is expected to meet the UN Secretary General, and a possible meeting with fellow Nobel laureates. Her stay in New York coincides with the annual UN General Assembly where she is expected to meet a host of world leaders, and possibly address the world body.

Among her public events, she will also receive the Global Citizen Award from the Atlantic Council in New York on Friday.

The Burmese opposition leader will spend Sept. 23 – 24 in Louisville, Kentucky, including a visit to a horse ranch with Sen. Mitch McConnell. Both will then address the University of Louisville.

From Louisville, the popular Burmese leader will head to Fort Wayne, in Indiana, which is known as “Little Burma,” given that it has among the highest concentration of Burmese in the US. She returns to New York for a day on Sept. 26, before heading to New Haven for a Chubb Fellow lecture at Yale University. The NLD leader will spend her last few days on the west coast, in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where she will meet members of the Burmese community.