, YANGON, Nov 4 – The most senior US official to visit Myanmar for a decade and a half met democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling junta’s premier Wednesday as Washington seeks a new era of engagement with the regime.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and his deputy Scot Marciel arrived in Myanmar on Tuesday to push forward the Obama administration’s revised policy on Myanmar.
Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi was allowed a rare break from detention when she appeared with Campbell before the media at the US official’s luxury hotel in the former capital Yangon, an AFP reporter saw.
Dressed in maroon traditional dress, the 64-year-old opposition leader smiled but said nothing to waiting reporters as she headed into the meeting in a hotel room.
Suu Kyi had her house arrest extended by another 18 months in August after a bizarre incident in which a US man swam uninvited to her lakeside home, effectively ruling her out of elections due in 2010. Related article: Suu Kyi meets US envoy
Campbell and Marciel earlier Wednesday held talks with Prime Minister Thein Sein in the remote administrative capital Naypyidaw, Myanmar officials said on condition of anonymity. Details of the talks were not immediately available.
Myanmar officials said the US delegation was not expected to meet reclusive junta leader Than Shwe. State media said that when the US envoys arrived he was in southern Myanmar inspecting aid efforts after last year’s Cyclone Nargis.
Campbell is the highest ranking US official to travel to Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — since Madeleine Albright went as US ambassador to the United Nations in 1995 during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The two-day trip is a follow-up to discussions in New York in September between US and Myanmar officials, the highest-level US contact with the regime in nearly a decade.
The Obama administration in September announced a dramatic change in US policy because isolating Myanmar had failed, but said it would not ease sanctions without progress on democracy and human rights.
US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said overnight that the current visit was the "first step, or I guess I should say the second step in the beginning of a dialogue with Burma."
Asked what Campbell discussed on Tuesday in talks with the information minister and local organisations, Kelly said: "They laid out the way we see this relationship going forward, how we should structure this dialogue, but they were mainly in a listening mode."
September’s talks had called for free and fair elections and the release of Suu Kyi, but also dealt with US concerns about Myanmar’s possible military links with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, has said the visit is the "start of direct engagement between the US and Myanmar government" but added that the party was not expecting any "big change".
Suu Kyi will be discussed when Obama meets Southeast Asian leaders at a regional summit in Singapore in mid-November, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Tuesday, adding that Thein Sein was expected to attend.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) favours engagement but has been accused of going soft on Myanmar’s generals.
In August, leader Than Shwe held an unprecedented meeting with visiting US senator Jim Webb which yielded the release of John Yettaw, the American man who swam to Suu Kyi’s lakeside house.
Thein Sein told Asian leaders at a summit in Thailand last month that the junta sees a role for Suu Kyi in fostering reconciliation ahead of the promised elections next year and could ease restrictions on her.
The junta refused to acknowledge the NLD’s landslide win in Myanmar’s last elections, in 1990. The United States toughened sanctions after the regime cracked down on protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007.