U.S. lawmakers presented Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi with Congress’ highest civilian honour in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, prompting Ms. Suu Kyi to declare it “one of the most moving days of my life”.
She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008 while under a 15-year house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule.
The 67-year-old Nobel laureate said it was worth the years of waiting, being honoured “in a House undivided, a House joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land”.
Previous recipients of the medal include George Washington, Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II.
She then met privately at the White House with President Barak Obama, another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. They appeared relaxed and were smiling as they talked in the Oval Office. Neither made formal comments to the photographers gathered to briefly witness the meeting.
Mr. Obama “expressed his admiration for her courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years”, according to a statement from the White House.
The low-key nature of the meeting appeared to reflect concerns that Ms. Suu Kyi’s Washington visit could overshadow Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein, who attends the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, and still faces opposition within Myanmar’s military to political reform.
At the medal ceremony, House and Senate leaders joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in paying tribute to Ms. Suu Kyi. Speaker after speaker at the medal ceremony marvelled that this was a moment they thought they would never see — Ms. Suu Kyi before them, not only free but herself now a lawmaker.
“It’s almost too delicious to believe, my friend,” said Ms. Clinton, “that you are in the Rotunda of our Capitol, the centrepiece of our democracy as an elected member of parliament.”
Buddhist monks in saffron robes and women in traditional Burmese dresses crammed into the venue alongside members of Congress, who set aside the intense rivalries ahead of the November 6 election.