Obama offers Myanmar fresh start in relations

Barack Obama offered Myanmar a new era in relations if it reforms and promised democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi his eternal support in letters.

Last Updated: Dec 01, 2011, 20:41 PM IST

Yangon: US President Barack Obama offered Myanmar a new era in relations if it reforms and promised democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi his eternal support in letters
hand-delivered by his top diplomat on Thursday.

The high-stakes personal intervention in a country long regarded by the West as a pariah state came during a historic visit by Hillary Clinton, the first US secretary of state to
set foot in the isolated nation for 50 years.

In a message to President Thein Sein, Obama offered a "new phase" in relations and requested "tangible outcomes" from a political reform effort which Washington has decided to test before deciding its next steps on Myanmar.

The country formerly known as Burma has surprised observers with a series of reformist moves in the past year including releasing Suu Kyi, holding dialogue with the
opposition and freeing some political prisoners.

Obama told Thein Sein, a former general, that Washington wanted to "explore how the United States can support and advance your efforts to transition to democracy and promote
protection of human rights".

US officials said the message, released by Hillary Clinton`s aides, aimed to signal that Obama was ready to invest personal prestige in engaging Myanmar.

The letter did not mention the words "Myanmar" or "Burma", thereby bypassing the controversy over the impoverished Southeast Asian state`s true name.

The former military junta renamed the country Myanmar in 1989 but the United States still uses Burma, in a practice intended to irk the generals who ceded to a nominally civilian
government this year.

In his letter to Suu Kyi, Obama signalled there would be no daylight between Washington and her interpretation of political events in Myanmar.

"We stand by you, now and always," Obama wrote, telling his fellow Nobel laureate that he had long admired her "brave and unwavering struggle for democracy".

Suu Kyi`s opposition, which boycotted last year`s poll, plans to contest by-elections next year that will be a major test of the new political climate.

Obama had announced he would send Hillary Clinton to test reform efforts in Myanmar two weeks ago during an Asia-Pacific tour, in the most significant US gesture towards the country in many
years.

Hillary Clinton urged Myanmar to free all political prisoners, estimated by activists to number between 500 and more than 1,600, and pressed the government to end
long-running ethnic conflicts.

PTI