Obama meets Aung San Suu Kyi
Barack Obama became the first serving US president to visit Burma today, trying during a whirlwind six-hour trip to strike a balance between praising the government's progress in shaking off military rule and pressing for more reform.
Mr Obama, who was greeted by enthusiastic crowds in the former capital Rangoon, met President Thein Sein, a former junta member who has spearheaded reforms since taking office in March 2011, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"I've shared with him the fact that I recognise this is just the first steps on what will be a long journey," Mr Obama, with Thein Sein at his side, told reporters after their talks.
"But we think a process of democratic and economic reform here in Burma that has been begun by the president is one that can lead to incredible development opportunities," he added, using the country name preferred by the government and former junta, rather than Burma, which is used in the United States.
Mr Thein Sein, speaking in Burmese with an interpreter translating his remarks, responded that the two sides would move forward, "based on mutual trust, respect and understanding".
"During our discussions, we also reached agreement for the development of democracy in Burma and for promotion of human rights to be aligned with international standards," he added.
Mr Obama's Southeast Asian trip, less than two weeks after his re-election, is aimed at showing how serious he is about shifting the US strategic focus eastwards as America winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The so-called "Asia pivot" is also meant to counter China's rising influence.
The trip to Burma is also intended to highlight what the White House has touted as a major foreign policy achievement; its success in pushing the country's generals to enact changes that have unfolded with surprising speed over the past year.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers, including children waving American and Burmese flags, lined Mr Obama's route from the airport, cheering him as he went by.
Mr Obama met fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ms Suu Kyi, who led the struggle against military rule and is now a lawmaker, at the lakeside home where she spent years under house arrest.
Addressing reporters afterwards, Ms Suu Kyi thanked him for supporting the political reform process. But, speaking so softly she was barely audible at times, she cautioned that the most difficult time was "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 and that we are working towards genuine success for our people," she said.
Mr Obama recalled Ms Suu Kyi's years of captivity and said she was "an icon of democracy who has inspired people not just in this country but around the world".
He said: "Today marks the next step in a new chapter between the United States and Burma."
Before he left, the two embraced and he kissed her on the cheek.
Earlier, Mr Obama made an unscheduled stop at the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda, where he, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and their entire entourage, secret service agents included, went barefoot up the giant stone staircase.