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Obama, Burmese President to Discuss Reform Progress, Challenges


Obama, Burmese President to Discuss Reform Progress, Challenges
Burma's President Thein Sein holds talks on Monday with President Obama at the White House. The discussions will focus on progress in reforms, barriers toward greater democratization and next steps in the changing U.S. - Burma relationship.

November 2012. Barack Obama becomes the first serving U.S. president to visit Burma. He meets with President Thein Sein, who has led a bold but cautious reform process since 2011 after decades of military rule.

Obama also meets with Aung San Suu Kyi who had visited the White House a few months before.

Now, Thein Sein reciprocates - the first Burmese president to visit the White House in nearly 50 years.

Retired diplomat Priscilla Clapp, chief of mission in Rangoon from 1999 to 2002, calls Thein Sein's visit “a piece of history.”

"There has been only one other occasion when the head of state from Burma at that time, Myanmar now, visited here and this was Ne Win in 1966,” she said.

After decades of political upheaval in Burma, the Obama administration continues to press for more progress on human rights and political and economic reforms.

Aung Din is a former political prisoner in Burma. Now living in the United States, he continues to advocate for full democracy.

“They [the U.S.] believe their best option for further improvement in Burma is to continue to engage with President Thein Sein and to continue to encourage him to do more.”

The ability of Burma’s government to fully resolve ongoing ethnic tensions and religious violence will have a major bearing on success.

Retired diplomat Clapp identifies two other keys to stable democracy and a free market economy.

“Dealing with corruption and instituting transparency everywhere, not only in government but in the economic system. The biggest problem right now is that everything is opaque and that is just a ready-made situation for corruption of the worst sort, and they recognize it,” she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about the reform process last year.

"The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight. Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success,” said Suu Kyi.

Ahead of the Thein Sein visit, the Burmese government released some political prisoners.

Activist Aung Din is hopeful for the future of his country but urges Obama to press for full unconditional release of all political prisoners.

“I believe that on this visit Obama will take the opportunity to press President Thein Sein more and more to move forward with significant results, significant outcomes,” said Aung Din.

The White House says Thein Sein's visit underscores Obama's commitment to supporting and assisting governments that embrace reform and helping Burma's people realize the full potential of their country.

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