U.S. Senator Jim Webb has arrived in Burma's administrative capital for talks with the country's military leaders. The Democrat senator from Virginia will be the first high-ranking U.S. official to meet with General Than Shwe.
The visit comes just days after the United States and other Western nations condemned the military government's order to extend the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
It is not known what specific issues will be covered during the talks Saturday, but the White House said Senator Webb would convey "strong" U.S. views on Burma's political path.
Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a fellow at the Institute of Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, says the meeting appears to signal Burma's willingness to engage with the United States. The U.S. and other Western nations have long imposed sanctions on the government, which he says have not worked.
"I think this is something we all can look forward to…. I think peer pressure and persuasion are the twin elements that could bring about results in a more desirable way in Naypyidaw," said Chowdhury.
The military has ruled Burma for more than 40 years. In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won elections but the military never allowed it to govern. In September 2007, it brutally quashed peaceful protest by Buddhist monks.
On Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi was convicted of violating her house arrest following an incident in May when an American entered her lakeside home uninvited. She was ordered to remain under house arrest for another one and a half years - a sentence that human rights groups and foreign governments say was aimed at preventing her from participating in next year's elections. The Nobel Peace laureate has been under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years.
A few members of the NLD have been asked to travel to Naypyidaw, the country's capital, while Webb is there, but it is not clear if they are to meet with the senator. Nor is known if Webb will be able to see Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon.
The senator is the first U.S. member of Congress to visit Burma in more than a decade. He arrived in Naypyidaw from Laos, as part of a five-nation tour of Asia as the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He was formerly as the Secretary of the Navy and served as a Marine in Vietnam.