YANGON, Myanmar — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the United States would loosen some restrictions on international financial assistance and development programs in Myanmar, in response to a nascent political and economic opening in the country.
The U.S. and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, also agreed to discuss upgrading diplomatic relations — which were suspended for two decades — and exchanging ambassadors, a step that could transform U.S. diplomacy in Southeast Asia.
Clinton met the country’s new president, U Thein Sein, Thursday morning and its main opposition leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, later in the day, underscoring the Obama administration’s cautious efforts to nurture a thaw in one of the world’s most isolated and repressive nations. In each meeting, Clinton delivered a letter from President Obama expressing support for the democratization of Myanmar.
“For decades, the choices of this country’s leaders kept it apart from the global economy and the community of nations,” Clinton said after meeting Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s remote new capital. “Today the United States is prepared to respond to reforms with measured steps to lessen its isolation and improve the lives of citizens.”
Clinton met Thein Sein at the monumental presidential palace, erected along with the rest of the city only six years ago on what had been an obscure stretch of farmland about 200 miles north of Yangon, the country’s largest city. Thein Sein, a former general and prime minister in the previous military government, greeted Clinton cordially, calling her visit as “a historic milestone” that he hoped would “open a new chapter in relations.”
Where that new chapter will lead depends on whether Thein Sein’s government takes additional steps to open up the country’s politics, release political prisoners and end the violent repression of minority ethnic groups in some of the world’s longest civil conflicts.
A senior Obama administration official said late in the day Thursday that there was not yet any specific timetable for actions by either country and that a full restoration of diplomatic relations appeared to be months away, at a minimum.
In her meetings and public statements, Clinton said she raised a number of issues that have divided the U.S. and Myanmar since 1990, when the ruling military junta refused to acknowledge the results of elections won by Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy.