Just a year after his administration signaled it would help Burma emerge from decades of repressive military rule, President Obama will make history Monday by becoming the first U.S. president to visit the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation.
Obama’s gesture, the centerpiece of a four-day trip to the region that will include stops in Thailand and Cambodia, comes as the White House seeks to send another strong message that it is serious about its “pivot to Asia” — a rebalancing of U.S. military and economic interests after more than a decade of war in the Middle East.
During his six hours in Burma, Obama is scheduled to meet separately with President Thein Sein and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose release in 2010 following 15 years under house arrest launched her nation’s opening to the West. She has since become a member of parliament.
Administration officials said Obama intends to hail the country’s “remarkable progress” toward democratic rule during a speech at Rangoon University in Burma’s historic capital but also to push its leaders farther along the path of reform, mindful that the nascent effort remains fragile.