President Barack Obama announced the U.S. is prepared to lift economic sanctions on Myanmar, following talks at the White House with the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The United States is now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed on Burma for quite some time," he said.
Earlier, Obama sent a letter to Congress saying the U.S. was moving to restore trade benefits to Myanmar that had been suspended more than two decades ago because of rights abuses in the country.
In an appearance at the White House with Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi called for an end to all sanctions that affect her country's economy, and said that while Myanmar has made progress in its transition to democracy, there is "so much that has to be done." She acknowledged continuing tensions among Myanmar's 135 ethnic groups, and said her administration is focused on the situation in Rakhine state, saying "communal strife is not something we can ignore."
This was Aung San Suu Kyi's first visit to the U.S. as State Counselor and Foreign Minister – a position she assumed after her party's decisive win in last November's elections. The country's military era constitution bars her from holding the title of president because her late husband and children are foreign citizens.
FILE - President Barack Obama, right, walks out with Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi at her home before the start of their joint news conference in Yangon, Myanmar.
Since taking office in late March, she has not called for an end to all sanctions, which are seen as leverage to encourage the military to allow more democratic reforms.
At a conference on Myanmar in Washington Tuesday, Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the White House wants to make sure that U.S. sanctions are not preventing economic investment that would help the people. "The view of the government matters a lot to us," Rhodes said.
At Tuesday’s daily State Department briefing, State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters the lifting of sanctions is always in response to democratic progress.
Myanmar expert and Brookings Institution non-resident fellow Lex Rieffel told VOA: “I think it is absolutely the right thing to do to consult with Aung San Suu Kyi and make sure that we don't get out of ahead of her and don't get too far behind her. So this is a country that has so many problems. It is hard for Americans, I believe, to even imagine the number of problems, the difficulty, the complexity of the problems she faces as the leader of this country.” Rieffel said those problems include a lack of infrastructure, such as a huge shortage of electrical power needed to operate businesses.
Over the past 20 years, the White House and Congress have maintained a long list of sanctions on Myanmar, including restrictions on jade and gemstones, and on businesses linked to the sales of arms and illegal drugs.
Obama eased some of the sanctions in 2013, and some major U.S. companies, including Coca Cola and General Motors, ventured into Myanmar’s economy.
Closer ties between Myanmar and the U.S. are viewed as one of Obama’s foreign policy successes, and part of his pivot to Asia.