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Obama to send Clinton to Myanmar

By NBC's Chuck Todd and Shawna Thomas

Updated 1:53 a.m. ET

BALI, Indonesia -- President Obama announced Friday that he will send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Myanmar (referred to as Burma by the United States government) next month to "explore whether the United States can empower a positive transition" in the country.

This will be the first visit of a sitting secretary of state to Myanmar in half a century. This continues steps the United States has made to explore diplomatic relations with a historically repressive government that has shown signs of change recently.  

The president said the "flickers of progress" that have been observed in the last several weeks were the "the most important steps towards reform in Burma that we've seen in years."  These movements include the release of some political prisoners in October, the formation of trade unions, a relaxing of some media restrictions and the establishment of a human-rights commission.

Flying from Australia to Indonesia on Air Force One Thursday night, the president spoke with political activist and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi -- who was released from house arrest by Myanmar's government last year. This was another move the United States sees as positive.

Obama confirmed that Suu Kyi "supports American engagement to move this process forward."

During meetings Friday with East Asian leaders, including the president of Myanmar, Obama will stress that far more needs to be done in the country when it comes to issues such as the abuse of ethnic minorities.  A senior administration official cautioned that Secretary Clinton will not bring promises to lift sanctions on this trip. Such moves on the part of the U.S. will take more action on human rights and political prisoners, the official said. 

Leaders of other countries in the Southeast Asian region, including some Obama met with Frisay, have been pushing for the U.S. to push a higher-level dialogue with Myanmar.

"We want to seize what could be a historic opportunity for progress and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform. It can forge a new relationship with the United States of America," Obama said.

Obama is in Indonesia winding up a nine-day international trip where he's expressed the importance of trade and security between the United States and Asia Pacific countries.