U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a final meeting with pro-democracy leader 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 and re-engage with the world community.
Clinton and Suu Kyi - the Nobel laureate who has come to symbolise the pro-democracy aspirations of Myanmar's people - held a private dinner on Thursday and met again on Friday at Suu Kyi's lakeside home, effectively her prison until she was released last November after years in detention.
Standing in the foyer of Suu Kyi's house with staff milling around, Clinton said: I know how important it is to have so many dedicated people around you. It makes all the difference.
The house looks wonderful, Clinton told Suu Kyi as she welcomed Clinton in.
Clinton was later due to meet representatives of ethnic minority groups, some of which remained locked in bloody conflict with the army, as well as fledgling civil society organisations.
She will aim to reassure them that the U.S. outreach to Myanmar's government does not mean it will ease pressure on human rights, political freedoms and rule of law in a country long a hallmark for authoritarian military rule.
Clinton met President Thein Sein on Thursday and announced a package of modest steps to improve ties, including U.S. support for new International Monetary Fund and World Bank needs assessment missions and expanded U.N. aid programs for the country's struggling economy.
She also said the United States 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 told a news conference on Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, before arriving in Yangon.
Clinton's trip - the first by a senior U.S. official in more than 50 years - represents an opportunity for both Myanmar and the United States, and both appear eager to press ahead with rapprochement.
Myanmar's new leadership hopes the United States will eventually see its way clear to ease or remove sanctions, a step which could open the resource-rich but desperately poor country to more foreign trade and investment and help it catch up to booming neighbours such as Thailand and India.
For Washington, improved ties with Myanmar could underscore President Barack Obama's determination to up U.S. engagement in Asia and balance China's fast-growing economic, military and political influence.
U.S. officials said Clinton's visit was aimed at bolstering reformers in the government, but said it was clear that some powerful figures remained wary of reforms - throwing a question mark over whether the changes can be sustained.
Clinton's dinner with Suu Kyi on Wednesday marked her first personal encounter with the veteran activist, who has played a central role in the Obama administration's decision to explore the possibility of new ties with the country also known as Burma.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy will contest coming by-elections for parliament - seen as the next key test of the government's reform program - and Suu Kyi herself has said she will stand for election, another sign that the pro-democracy leader believes the changes under way are real.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)