News / Asia

Obama Speaks with Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi

White House officials have released more details on the new U.S. diplomatic outreach to Burma. Following President Obama’s announcement that he will send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for talks on December 1, officials disclosed more details on Obama's conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters in Rangoon (file photo)
Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters in Rangoon (file photo)

The phone call on November 17 was the president’s first the Burmese democracy leader, who spent years in and out of house arrest and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Officials called the conversation, held while Obama flew to Bali on Air Force One, “very substantive” saying Aung San Suu Kyi updated him on the political situation in the country.

Officials said the president had long been a great admirer of hers and her struggle for democracy and human rights, and he emphasized that the U.S. goal is to see a Burma that is responsive to the will of the people.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the senior officials said, emphasized the importance of a fully inclusive reconciliation process and encouraged Mr. Obama to make clear that the U.S. will work with a Burmese government that demonstrates it is willing to work with the world and with her.

In briefing reporters, the officials also outlined the Obama administration's policy on Burma, put into effect after an extensive review, which involves increased engagement while maintaining pressure in the form of sanctions.

They said real progress in Burma was seen after contested elections led to a new leadership, and quoted Aung San Suu Kyi as saying she views Burma's President Thein Sein as a man “she can do business with."

The senior administration officials said Burma's government had taken “a substantial set of steps” toward reform, with one saying “we think that the winds of change are blowing." But they emphasized more needs to be done.

The officials said the U.S. respects the ASEAN decision to allow Burma to chair the organization in 2014, adding that by then it is hoped progress in Burma will have advanced. One official said the U.S. consulted with China, and Beijing was fully supportive of U.S. engagement.

President Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi also had what the senior administration officials called a lighter moment during their conversation.

They said Aung San Suu Kyi asked about the Obama family dog, “Bo”, and mentioned she too had a dog. Both Aung San Suu Kyi and Obama expressed the hope that they will meet someday in person.

on Dipity.

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