REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -– Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday for a historic three-day visit aimed at encouraging reform and assessing progress in the long-isolated nation, as well as offering a road map on forging closer ties with the United States and Europe.
She will also be looking for an explanation of the country's illicit cooperation with North Korea on developing ballistic missiles.
The trip by Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country since 1955, is seen as giving the military-led government great "face," in Asian parlance. It signals that the U.S. is ready to engage with a regime whose "flickers of progress," in President Obama's words, are promising, even though it remains unclear whether that progress is deeply rooted or sustainable.
The challenge for Washington moving ahead, analysts said, will be to effectively employ the West's available carrots and sticks –- including sanctions, aid and diplomatic recognition -- in ways that keep Myanmar, also known as Burma, opening further in ways that don't embolden hard-liners and reverse early progress.
In recent months, the country has taken steps that might seem relatively modest by Western standards -- including elections, the writing of a new constitution, the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and eased restrictions on the media -- but are significant given its history of strong-arm rule.
In scheduled appointments with President Thein Sein, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and parliamentary leaders Thursday, Clinton will be meeting with the regime's new face, the first tendrils of a hoped-for democratic transition. Absent will be any obvious representatives of the serving military, nor is there a clear picture of who's directing policy behind the scenes.
A highlight of Clinton's trip will be her scheduled meeting with Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize winner recently announced plans to run for parliament after Myanmar's president ruled that her previously banned National League for Democracy party could to return to politics.
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Credit: Nyein Chan Naing / EPA