- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — Making a diplomatically risky trip to the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she wanted to see for herself whether new civilian leaders are truly ready to throw off 50 years of military dictatorship.

Her visit is a test that includes rare face-to-face meetings with former members of the military junta, whose brutal rule made a poor pariah state of one of the region’s most resource-rich nations.

During her visit, Mrs. Clinton also will encourage Myanmar, formerly 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 (formerly Rangoon), 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.

Mrs. Clinton was greeted at Naypyidaw’s small airfield by Deputy Foreign Minister Myo Myint, other officials and a large contingent of international press who were granted rare visas to cover her visit.

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 the United States and its allies are wary of China’s rise.

Officials say 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 are also 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 Thursday and formal meeting with Mrs. Suu Kyi on Friday probably will be the highlights of the visit.

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

One senior official accompanying Mrs. Clinton described the administration’s early efforts as “abysmal failures” but said the situation had improved notably in recent months. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the administration’s internal thinking.

The rapprochement sped up when Myanmar held elections last year that gave power to a new government that pledged greater openness.

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