DIPLOMACY
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Barack Obama

Myanmar welcomes Obama’s historic visit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2012, 4:21am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2012, 3:06pm

Myanmar’s government says it “warmly welcomes” US President Barack Obama’s decision to visit the country this month, noting it will increase the momentum of democratic reform.

Obama will become the first US president to visit the once pariah nation, which is emerging from decades of military rule.

Presidential office spokesman Major Zaw Htay says he believes the “support and encouragement by the US president and American people will strengthen the commitment of President Thein Sein’s reform process to move forward without backtracking”.

Zaw Htay said on Friday that the government hopes “bilateral relations and co-operation will significantly increase after this historic visit”.

During his November 17-20 trip, Obama will also travel to Thailand and Cambodia, the latter another first for a US president. While in Cambodia, Obama will attend the East Asia Summit.

During his trip to Myanmar, Obama will also meet democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar has undergone a startling reform process launched by Thein Sein that has seen Suu Kyi, once a prisoner in her home, become a member of parliament.

The president is also expected to make a speech to civil society groups.

In Thailand, a US treaty ally, Obama will meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and mark 180 years of diplomatic relations with the Southeast Asian kingdom.

A White House statement said Obama would use the brief trip to “discuss a broad range of issues, including economic prosperity and job creation through increased trade and partnerships, energy and security co-operation, human rights, shared values and other issues of regional and global concern”.

Obama is expected to turn increasingly to foreign affairs in his second White House term, which begins in January, after devoting months this year to his re-election effort and campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.

Relations between the US and Myanmar have thawed significantly since Thein Sein took the helm of a quasi-civilian regime last year and ushered in a period of sweeping reform.

Fresh from his re-election triumph, Obama has a small window for foreign travel before Thanksgiving on November 22 and deliberations in Congress about averting a destructive budgetary arrangement known as the “fiscal cliff”.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse