A US State Department official met Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday in a visit that marked the highest-level talks between a US diplomat and Myanmar’s detained opposition leader in 14 years.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top US diplomat for East Asia, greeted Aung San Suu Kyi with a handshake after she was driven to his hotel in Yangon, US embassy spokesman Richard Mei said.
The topic of their discussion was not immediately known, but the meeting offered Aung San Suu Kyi, who wore a pink traditional Burmese jacket, her first trip in years outside the confines of her dilapidated home and Myanmar’s notorious Insein Prison.
The 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest.
Campbell and his deputy, Scot Marciel, are the highest-level Americans to visit Myanmar since 1995. Their trip stems from a new US policy that reverses the previous administration’s isolation of Myanmar in favor of direct, high-level talks with a country that has been ruled by the military since 1962.
Their two-day visit is the second step in “the beginning of a dialogue with Burma,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters in Washington on Tuesday after the officials had met with senior junta officials in Myanmar’s administrative capital of Naypyitaw.
“They laid out the way we see this relationship going forward, how we should structure this dialogue,” Kelly said. “But they were mainly in a listening mode.”
Campbell is continuing talks he began in September in New York with senior Myanmar officials, which at the time were the first such high-level contact in nearly a decade.
Campbell met Burmese Prime Minister General Thein Sein yesterday morning before flying to Yangon, the commercial capital, Mei said.
Aung San Suu Kyi was recently sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest for briefly sheltering an uninvited American, in a trial that drew global condemnation. The sentence means she will not be able to participate in next year’s elections, which will be the first in two decades.
Campbell was scheduled to meet later in the afternoon with leaders of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party at their headquarters, followed by talks with other political parties.
For years, the US had isolated the junta with political and economic sanctions, which failed to force the generals to respect human rights, release jailed political activists and make democratic reforms.
The administration of US President Barack Obama decided recently to step up engagement as a way of promoting reforms.
Washington has said that it will maintain the sanctions until talks with Myanmar’s generals result in concrete change.
Campbell was the most senior US official to visit Myanmar since a September 1995 trip by then-UN ambassador Madeleine Albright.