Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Washington on Monday for a three-week U.S. visit during which she will be presented America's highest civilian award and is expected to hold talks with President Barack Obama.
The 67-year-old Nobel laureate arrived as President Thein Sein took another step in his bid to embrace democratic reforms by freeing more than 500 prisoners, including dozens of remaining political detainees.
"We are extremely excited about her visit, we are deeply involved in her visit," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said ahead of her arrival, pointing out that Then Sein will also be in the U.S. to attend the U.N. General Assembly meeting next week.
"We are very supportive of his engagements, we support the efforts he had taken towards reform and obviously the role Aung San Suu Kyi has played, is playing, and will continue to play will be celebrated in Washington, New York, and many other cities around the United States," he said.
Campbell said Aung San Suu Kyi has an "incredible schedule, upwards of nearly 100 engagements" during her U.S. visit, including trips to the states of Indiana, Kentucky, and California where she will meet with the Burmese diaspora community.
It will be her first U.S. trip in the more than two decades during which she was mostly held under house arrest by Burma's former military rulers.
She will meet Tuesday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The White House has yet to announce whether she will meet Obama but sources say he is very likely to hold talks with her despite his hectic re-election campaign.
Experts at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies have suggested that Obama also meet with President Thein Sein.
"There is a delicate balance required to effectively nurture the reform process in Myanmar [Burma]. The United States has a sophisticated role to play in this context. To meet only with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could be perceived as unbalanced and as a slight to President U Thein Sein—a failure to appreciate the courageous role the latter has played in launching political reforms in a country ruled by the military for five decades," the center said in a report last week.
Thein Sein ordered the release Monday of another 514 prisoners, including dozens of political detainees, in an apparent bid to pave the way for the U.S. to further ease sanctions ahead of his trip to attend the U.N. meeting.
The Obama administration is believed to be considering easing a ban on imports from Burma into the U.S., one of the main remaining sanctions imposed on the country. The U.S. Congress last month renewed the ban for another year.
Washington has eased various sanctions this year to match the progress toward reforms in the country by Thein Sein's nominally civilian government after decades of brutal military rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi is also scheduled to attend a high-level meeting organized by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, a day before Thein Sein addresses the General Assembly, reports said.
Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.