President Obama on Wednesday met with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who earlier was awarded Congress‘ highest honor at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda that brought together Senate and House leaders from both sides of the political aisle as well as two former first ladies.
Mrs. Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner under Myanmar’s former military government, said the receiving the Congressional Gold Medal was “one of the most moving days” of her life.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Suu Kyi, both Nobel Peace Prize winners, later met in the Oval Office.
Over the years, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to champion Mrs. Suu Kyi’s cause of promoting democracy in the Southeast Asian nation, formerly known as Burma.
“It’s almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the Rotunda of our great Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy, as an elected member of your parliament and … the leader of the political opposition, the leader of a political party,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said turning to Mrs. Suu Kyi.
“The United States will stand with her, with the president of Burma and those who are reformers in the executive branch and the legislative branch, with the activists, with civil society, as they fan the flickers of democratic progress and press forward with reform,” she added.
“There will be difficulties on the way ahead, but I am confident we will be able to overcome all obstacles with the help and support of our friends,” she said.
The Obama administration is walking a diplomatic tightrope to ensure Mrs. Suu Kyi’s visit does not upstage a visit to the United States next week by Thein Sein, who will attend the U.N. General Assembly session and meet Mrs. Clinton in New York next week.
Mrs. Suu Kyi was originally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in absentia in 2008 when Myanmar’s military junta had her under house arrest. She was released in November of 2010 after spending 15 of the past 20 years in prison or under house arrest.
The ceremony was a rare bipartisan affair that included House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Kentucky; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat; Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat; Mrs. Clinton and another former first lady, Laura Bush.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Democrat, and Rep. Donald A. Manzullo, Illinois Republican, co-sponsors of legislation that awarded Mrs. Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008, were also present.
Mrs. Pelosi said the award was “a sign of the bond between [Mrs. Suu Kyi] and the United States.”
U.S. relations with Myanmar have thawed over the past year as the military-backed government has taken steps toward reform. The government has released hundreds of political prisoners, legalized opposition political parties, eased restrictions on the press and enacted laws to strengthen workers’ rights.