(BALI, Indonesia) -- President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States will engage with the government of Burma after seeing “flickers of progress in these last several weeks … on the path toward reform.”
Clinton will be the first Secretary of State to visit the country in more than half a century when she travels to Burma next month.
Her trip “will explore whether the United States can empower a positive transition in Burma and begin a new chapter between our countries,” Obama said. “That possibility will depend upon the Burmese government taking more concrete action. If Burma fails to move down the path of reform it will continue to face sanctions and isolation."
“But if it seizes this moment then reconciliation can prevail and millions of people may get to live with greater measure of freedom, prosperity and dignity," the president added. "And that possibility is too important to ignore."
“The persecution of democratic reformers, the brutality shown toward ethnic minorities and the concentration of power in the few military leaders has challenged our conscience and isolated Burma from the United States and much of the world,” Obama told reporters covering his trip to Bali, Indonesia for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference.
The U.S. government still refers to the country as Burma, its former name. The name was changed to Myanmar by the new regime in 1989.
The United States has imposed trade and monetary sanctions against Myanmar over the last decade in response to the oppression, and has openly supported Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest until late last year.
“For decades Americans have been deeply concerned about the denial of basic human rights for the Burmese people,” Obama said. But now “the government has released some political prisoners, media restrictions have been relaxed and legislation has been approved that could open the political environment. So taken together, these are the most important steps toward reform in Burma that we’ve seen in years.”
Those steps, he said, offer an opening for a change in relations.
“We want to seize what could be an historic opportunity for progress. And make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform it could forge a new relationship with the United States of America,” Obama said, though he warned that there is much more to be done.
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