November 12, 2009 / 7:51 AM / 11 years ago

U.S., Myanmar leaders may cross paths at ASEAN: Clinton

MANILA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has no plans for talks with Myanmar’s leaders on the sidelines of a weekend Asian summit, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the opportunity might arise for her or Obama to meet them.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waves upon her arrival at Manila airport November 12, 2009. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

Leaders of the reclusive military-run state, including Lieutenant General Thein Sein, Myanmar’s prime minister, are expected to attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore. Obama also will attend the event.

“There is not a meeting (with Myanmar’s leaders),” Clinton told a news conference during a visit to the Philippine capital Manila. “There very well may be the opportunity for leaders, including myself and including the president, to meet with the leaders of Burma, something that we have not done before.”

Since taking office less than a year ago, Obama has greeted and spoken to leaders, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, that were avoided at international summits by his predecessor.

Myanmar’s military government is shunned by the West over its rights record, which has kept previous U.S. presidents from meeting all 10 members of ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a part.

Clinton renewed her call for Myanmar’s military leaders to agree to the unconditional release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and said the United States would “encourage, urge, persuade” the former Burma’s leaders to enter into a dialogue with its opponents on the country’s political future.

IMPORTANT FIRST STEP

“We think it is an important first step,” Clinton said of the political dialogue. “We are continuing to call for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi. We believe her detention over so many years is baseless and not founded on any concern other than she is the leader of the political opposition.”

She said Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, had “every right, as any person should have...to participate in the active democratic life” of her country.

Clinton pressed for the opposition to be included in planning for the 2010 election, saying: “I will underscore our skepticism about an election that does not include all of the people or their representatives who are in opposition.”

The Obama administration decided in September to pursue deeper engagement with Myanmar to try to spur democratic reforms. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell visited Myanmar last week in what was the highest-level U.S. visit in 14 years.

Despite the increased diplomacy, Clinton said there were no plans at this stage to drop U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar.

“We have made it very clear we are not lifting sanctions on Burma but we are trying to encourage Burma to conduct the kind of internal dialogue with all the stakeholders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, that could lead to there being fair, free and credible elections next year.”

Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and David Alexander; Editing by Ron Popeski

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