WASHINGTON — In a long-awaited White House visit, President Barack Obama told Myanmar's president that he appreciates the Asian leader's efforts to lead the country in "a long and sometimes difficult, but ultimately correct, path to follow" toward democracy.
Obama spoke as he sat in the Oval Office with former general Thein Sein, who became the first president of Myanmar to visit the White House in 47 years. Activists object to the invitation because of concerns over human rights in the country, but it marks a turnaround in international acceptance for Myanmar after decades of isolation and direct military rule.
Obama credited Thein Sein's leadership in political and economic reform in bringing about an end to significant tensions between their two countries.
"As I indicated to President Sein, countries that are success are countries that tap into the talents of all people and respect the rights of all people," Obama said. "And I'm confident that if Myanmar follows that recipe, that it will be not only a successful democracy but a thriving economy."
Thein Sein previously served in a repressive junta, and his meetings at the White House and Congress would have been all-but-impossible before he took the helm of a nominally civilian government in 2011. His name was only deleted from a blacklist barring travel to the U.S. last September.
He arrived in Washington Saturday, six months after Obama made history with an unprecedented U.S. presidential visit to the country also known as Burma. The administration's outreach to Myanmar's generals has provided an important incentive for the military to loosen controls on citizens and reduce dependence on China.
Myanmar has been rewarded by relaxation of tough economic sanctions, and Thein Sein will be addressing American businessmen keen to capitalize on the opening of one of Asia's few untapped markets.