Clinton tests reforms on historic visit to Myanmar

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (AP) — Making a diplomatically risky trip to the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary RodhamClinton said she wanted to see for herself whether new civilian leaders are truly ready to throw off 50 years of military dictatorship — a test that includes rare face-to-face meetings with former members of the junta, whose brutal rule made a poor pariah state of one of the region’s most resource-rich nations.

During her visit, Mrs. Clinton will also encourage Myanmar, also known as Burma, to sever military and nuclear ties with North Korea.

Mrs. Clinton arrived Wednesday in the capital of Naypyidaw on the first trip by a U.S. secretary of state to Myanmar in more than 50 years. She is to meet senior Myanmar officials Thursday before heading to the commercial capital of Yangon, where she will see opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is returning to the political scene after years of detention and harassment.

“I am obviously looking to determine for myself and on behalf of our government what is the intention of the current government with respect to continuing reforms both political and economic,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters before her arrival here.

She declined to discuss the specific measures she would suggest or how the U.S. might reciprocate.

“We and many other nations are quite hopeful that these flickers of progress … will be ignited into a movement for change that will benefit the people of the country,” she said, echoing President Obama when he announced he was sending her to Myanmar.

Mrs. Clinton was greeted at Naypyidaw’s small airfield by a deputy foreign minister, several other officials and a large contingent of international press who were granted rare visas to cover her visit.

But Mrs. Clinton’s presence here appeared to take second stage to the expected arrival Thursday of the prime minister of Belarus and his wife, to whom two large welcoming signs were erected at the airport and the road into the city. Belarus often is criticized for its poor human rights record and is subject to U.S. sanctions similar to those Myanmar is under.

No signs welcoming Mrs. Clinton were visible as her motorcade bounced from the airport to the city on a bumpy cement road that was largely devoid of vehicles, with traffic police stopping small and scattered groups of cars, trucks and motorbikes at intersections.

The Obama administration is betting the visit will pay dividends, promoting human rights, limiting suspected cooperation with North Korea on ballistic missiles and nuclear activity, and loosening Chinese influence in a region where America and its allies are wary of China’s rise.

Officials said Mrs. Clinton will be seeking assurances from Myanmar‘s leaders that they will sign an agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog that will permit unfettered access to suspected nuclear sites. The U.S. and other Western nations suspect Myanmar has sought and received nuclear advice along with ballistic missile technology from North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions. A U.S. official said that missiles and missile technology are of primary concern but that signs of “nascent” nuclear activity also are worrying.

Mrs. Clinton also will note the government’s baby steps toward reform after 50 years of military rule that saw brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy activists such as Mrs. Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy party.

Mrs. Clinton‘s private dinner on Thursday and formal meeting with Mrs. Suu Kyi on Friday probably will be the highlights of the visit. Mrs. Suu Kyi, who intends to run for parliament in upcoming elections, has welcomed Mrs. Clinton‘s trip and told Mr. Obama in a phone call earlier this month that engagement with the government would be positive. Mrs. Clinton has called Mrs. Suu Kyi a personal inspiration.

Mrs. Suu Kyi said Wednesday that she still supports U.S. sanctions against her country’s government but will have a better idea of the chances for reform after she meets with Mrs. Clinton.

The trip is the first major development in U.S.-Myanmar relations in decades and comes after the Obama administration launched a new effort to prod reforms in 2009 with a package of carrot-and-stick incentives.

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