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U.S. Dispatches Secretary Clinton to Myanmar

November 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
President Obama announced Friday that he'll send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Asian nation of Myanmar, which has long been isolated from much of the world. Margret Warner reports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, a call for renewed ties with an Asian nation long isolated from much of the world.

Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: It was a major turnaround for the United States. At a summit of Southeast Asian nations in Bali, Indonesia, President Obama today announced he’s sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Myanmar.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: After years of darkness, we have seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks. We want to seize what could be an historic opportunity for progress, and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America.

MARGARET WARNER: For years, the isolated Myanmar, previously known as Burma, has been subject to U.S. and Western sanctions for its repression of political opponents, ethnic minorities, and even Buddhist monks.

The news that now, for the first time in more than 50 years, a U.S. secretary of state will visit was welcomed by Soe Aung of the Forum for Democracy in Burma.

SOE AUNG, forum for democracy in Burma: I think it is an opportunity for the U.S. to ensure that the release of the political prisoners, as well as the ending attacks in ethnic areas in north and eastern Burma, as well as inclusive dialogue towards — to bring about the national reconciliation in the country. Do not forget about that these ongoing human rights violations are taking place many areas in Burma.

MARGARET WARNER: Myanmar is strategically located between Asia’s two rising powers, India and China. Both are major trading partners.

But Myanmar angered the Chinese recently by canceling a Chinese dam project near their common border. The president’s announcement coincided with another groundbreaking decision, this one in Myanmar.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was in prison and under house arrest for 15 years, said she and her opposition party, the National League for Democracy, will take part in parliamentary elections next year. Her party boycotted last November’s election, but she was freed from house arrest just days later.

And in March, Myanmar’s generals handed power to a quasi-civilian government led by a retired general, Thein Sein. He has made some reform moves, including easing media censorship and freeing some political prisoners. Secretary Clinton is expected to arrive in Myanmar two weeks from now.