Suu Kyi receives top US honour
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met President Barack Obama at the White House and received the highest congressional award yesterday.
Ms Suu Kyi, making a coast-to-coast US tour, held private talks with Mr Obama in the Oval Office after being feted by lawmakers in the US Capitol, where she was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal for her long fight for democracy in a country ruled by army generals since 1962.
"This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land," she said. "Among all these faces are some I saw while I was under house arrest, and some I saw after I was released from house arrest," said Ms Suu Kyi, acknowledging strong support from US legislators during her 17 years of house arrest.
The Oval Office setting for the first meeting between the two Nobel Peace laureates afforded Ms Suu Kyi's visit some of the trappings normally reserved for visiting foreign presidents and prime ministers.
But the White House, apparently treading carefully lest they allow the Suu Kyi events upstage Burma's government, kept the meeting low-key. News photographers were allowed in briefly but not television cameras nor print reporters. Mr Obama and Ms Suu Kyi met for about half an hour.
The visit could help the US president, seeking re-election in November, highlight what many see as a foreign policy accomplishment of his administration in helping to push Burma's generals onto the path of democratic change.
The president expressed his admiration for Suu Kyi's courage and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years, the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
Mr Obama welcomed the Asian nation's democratic transition and the recent progress made by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party and President Thein Sein, the White House said.
At her congressional medal ceremony, both Ms Suu Kyi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the presence in the audience of a minister representing Burma's president and the country's new ambassador in Washington.
"This task has been made possible by the reform measures instituted by President Thein Sein," said Ms Suu Kyi in her acceptance speech.
Earlier yesterday, the United States removed sanctions that blocked any US assets of Thein Sein and the speaker of Burma's lower house of parliament and that generally barred US companies from dealing with them.
Thein Sein and lower house speaker Shwe Mann, once members of the former military junta who have won international praise for driving reforms in the 18 months since the military ceded power to a quasi-civilian government, were both removed from the US Treasury's list of "specially designated nationals".
Thein Sein will visit New York for the annual UN General Assembly next week, when he is expected to meet senior U.S. officials.
Ms Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy in opposition to the military junta that held her under house arrest for years. Her last stay in the United States was in the 1970s as a United Nations employee.
Her election to parliament in April helped to transform the pariah image of Burma and persuade the West to begin rolling back sanctions after a year of dramatic reforms, including the release of about 700 political prisoners in amnesties between May 2011 and July.