The Myanmar Times
Saturday, 20 December 2014
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

White House confirms Obama visit to Myanmar

US President Barack Obama waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Florida Sunday, November 4, 2012. (AFP)US President Barack Obama waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Florida Sunday, November 4, 2012. (AFP)

United States President Barack Obama will make history next week by becoming the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar.

Just two days after President Obama was re-elected for four more years, the White House ended weeks of speculation by confirming the visit on November 8. It did not initially give the date of the visit but the State Department and a Myanmar government official said it would take place on November 19.

President Obama will be joined in Myanmar by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on November 9.

President Obama and Ms Clinton are scheduled to meet President U Thein Sein and National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon. President Obama will also speak to civil society organisations, the White House said in a statement.

The visit to Myanmar is part of a larger Southeast Asia trip from November 17 to 20 that will see President Obama travel to Bangkok and Phnom Penh, where he will also become the first US president to visit Cambodia.

The trip continues the efforts of his administration to strengthen ties with ASEAN as a whole and in particular Myanmar, which it decided to engage rather than isolate following a policy review in 2009.

In Thailand, President Obama will meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and celebrate 180 years of relations between the two nations. Thailand has been a long-time ally of the US in Southeast Asia, particularly in terms of military cooperation.

President Obama will also attend the US-ASEAN Leaders Meeting and East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh.

The visit will take place less than two weeks after President Obama was elected to serve a second term, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

It will also represent a milestone in the rebuilding of ties between the US and Myanmar, which were minimal for much of the two decades preceding the military government’s handover to U Thein Sein in March 2011.

The re-engagement process began when Myanmar sent signals that it was ready to work with Washington in March 2009, when then-Minister for Foreign Affairs U Nyan Win met a mid-level US State Department official – an unusual move by protocol standards.

Since then, a steady stream of US officials have visited Myanmar, the most high-profile being Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in December 2011. Just last month Deputy Secretary of State William J Burns paid a more low-key visit, as did Deputy Secretary of Treasury Neal S Wolin.

Meanwhile, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was welcomed at the White House in September and while in Washington she was presented the Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded to her in 2008 while she was under house arrest.

The US also lifted a travel ban on President U Thein Sein, who became the first Myanmar head of state to address the UN when he spoke at the General Assembly in New York on September 27.

As a result of reforms in Myanmar, the US also began the process of easing investment and import sanctions, although certain individuals and businesses still remain on the blacklist.

Myanmar exports are also banned from entering the US, although Ms Clinton indicated in September the government was looking at easing the ban in cooperation with Congress.