A U.S. State Department official was to hold high-profile talks Wednesday with Myanmar’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as the Obama administration opens a new era of engaging the country’s military rulers.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, and his deputy, Scot Marciel, are the highest-level Americans to visit Myanmar since 1995. Their trip stems from a new U.S. policy that reverses the Bush administration’s isolation of Myanmar in favour of direct, high-level talks with a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962.
Their two-day visit is the second step in “the beginning of a dialogue with Burma,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters in Washington on Tuesday after the officials had met with senior junta officials in Myanmar’s administrative capital of Naypyitaw.
“They laid out the way we see this relationship going forward, how we should structure this dialogue,” Kelly said. “But they were mainly in a listening mode.”
Campbell is continuing talks he began in September in New York with senior Myanmar officials, which at the time were the first such high-level contact in nearly a decade.
Wednesday’s talks were to include a morning meeting with Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein, according to Myanmar government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists
Campbell will then meet Suu Kyi, the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest.
Suu Kyi will be driven to the luxury lakeside hotel where Campbell is staying in Yangon, the commercial capital. It will mark Suu Kyi’s first trip in years outside the confines of her dilapidated home and Myanmar’s notorious Insein Prison.
Suu Kyi was recently sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest for briefly sheltering an uninvited American, in a trial that drew global condemnation. The sentence means she will not be able to participate in next year’s elections, which will be the first in two decades.
Campbell is scheduled to meet later in the afternoon with leaders of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party at their headquarters followed by talks with other political parties.
For years, the United States had isolated the junta with political and economic sanctions, which failed to force the generals to respect human rights, release jailed political activists and make democratic reforms. The Obama administration decided recently to step up engagement as a way of promoting reforms.
Washington has said it will maintain the sanctions until talks with Myanmar’s generals result in change.
Campbell is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Myanmar since a September 1995 trip by then-U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright.