Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition leader, has welcomed US engagement with Myanmar, saying she hoped it would set her long-isolated country on the road to democracy.
Hillary Clinton, the visiting US secretary of state, held a final meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday as she wrapped up a landmark visit to Myanmar which saw the new civilian government pledge to forge ahead with political reforms.
The two met at Suu Kyi’s lakeside home, effectively her prison until she was released last November after years in detention.
“We are happy with the way in which the United States is engaging with us and it is through engagement that we hope to
promote a process of democratisation,” Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate, said.
“If we go forward together I’m confident there will be no turning back from the road to democracy. We are not on that road
yet but we hope to get there as soon as possible with our friends.”
It was the first time the pair have met in person, though they have previously spoken by telephone. Clinton has often referred to Aung San Suu Kyi as a personal inspiration.
Her National League for Democracy will contest next year’s by-elections for parliament – seen as the next key test of the government’s reform programme – and Suu Kyi herself has said she will stand for election.
At the end of her visit, Clinton said the US would offer $1.2m in new aid aimed at civil society in Myanmar to support microfinance, healthcare and help for the victims of landmines.
The announcement came a day she said the US was ready to improve relations with Myanmar, but only if it stayed on the path of democratisation.
After talks with Thein Sein, the Myanmar president, Clinton announced a package of modest steps to improve ties, including US support for new IMF and World Bank needs assessment missions and expanded UN aid programmes for the country’s struggling economy.
Al Jazeera’s Aela Callan reports from Naypyidaw
She also said the US would consider reinstating a full ambassador in Myanmar and could eventually ease crippling
economic sanctions, but underscored that these future steps would depend on further measurable progress in Myanmar’s reform drive.
“It has to be not theoretical or rhetorical. It has to be very real, on the ground, that can be evaluated. But we are open
to that and we are going to pursue many different avenues to demonstrate our continuing support for this path of reform,” Clinton announced in the capital, Naypyidaw.
The US has been represented in Myanmar by a lower-ranking diplomat, a charge d’affaires, as a protest since the country’s military rulers refused to accept the results of 1990 elections swept by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Clinton’s visit is the first high-level visit by a US official in half a century.
Thein Sein hailed a “new chapter in relations” with the US.
“Your visit is historic and will be a new chapter in relations. I appreciate the atmosphere you have created for friendly relations,” he told Clinton.
Myanmar was ruled by the military for decades until elections last year brought a nominally civilian government to power – albeit one with close links to the army.
The UN and international human rights organisations have repeatedly issued reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations in Myanmar.
But under the new leadership, the country’s record has been improving, rights groups say.
The government recently released more than 230 political prisoners, eased media censorship and sought guidance from international financial institutions to revive its economy.
Myanmar also amended its political parties law, removing a clause which bars anyone convicted of a crime from joining a party or taking part in an election. That paves the way for political prisoners, particularly Suu Kyi, to run for office.