By Kathleen Hennessey,
President Obama on Monday became the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar, a once-secretive nation emerging from decades of authoritarian rule.
Obama urged the Southeast Asian country’s government to stay the course toward democratic reforms.
Meanwhile, the president dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Middle East to seek a truce to end the nearly weeklong conflict between Israel and Hamas. Clinton was with President Barack Obama in Cambodia for summit meetings with Asian leaders before departing.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Amr announced a ceasefire at a news conference in Cairo with Clinton, who joined negotiations on Wednesday.
The White House has billed Obama’s visit to Asia as a celebration of the recent shift by the government of President Thein Sein, symbolized most publicly by the release of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010 after years of house arrest.
Obama administration officials released excerpts of a speech Obama planned to give at Yangon University.
“The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished — they must become a shining North Star for all this nation’s people,” the speech said.
The remarks include an indirect reference to the plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority not granted citizenship. Only Myanmar can define its citizens, but Obama’s speech holds up the U.S. as a model.
“I say this because my own country, and my own life, have taught me this,” Obama said in the excerpts. “We have tasted the bitterness of civil war and segregation, but our history shows us that hatred in the human heart can recede, and the lines between races and tribe fade away.”
Obama’s six-hour visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, included meetings with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi.
Obama planned to praise the iconic dissident, now a member of parliament and leader of the opposition party, for her “fierce dignity.”
Obama suggested that his policies toward Myanmar, which opened diplomatic engagement after years of being cut off from the U.S., were at least partly responsible for the changes. And he sought to use Myanmar as a validation of his engagement strategy elsewhere.
The visit to Myanmar was part of a three-day tour of Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, a trip aimed at drawing attention to Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia.