Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarks on an historic trip to Myanmar (also called Burma) this week, the first time a secretary of state will visit the isolated country in more than 50 years, NBC’s Kristen Welker reports. She will also meet for the first time with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate who had been a political prisoner in Myanmar for 15 of the last 22 years until she was freed last year.
On November 18, Welker notes, President Obama announced he was sending Clinton to Myanmar, saying that he had seen “flickers of progress” in the country which has been governed by military rule for half a century. “President Thein Sein and the Burmese Parliament have taken important steps on the path toward reform,” Obama said while in Bali, Indonesia. “A dialogue between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi has begun. The government has released some political prisoners. Media restrictions have been relaxed. And legislation has been approved that could open the political environment.”
Still the trip is a potential foreign policy risk, Welker observes. On the one hand, the United States could help the country usher in a new era of open government while loosening China’s influence in the region. But Myanmar still has a long way to go -- it currently holds a number of political prisoners and has been heavily criticized for its treatment of minorities and its relationship with North Korea. GOP Sen. Richard Lugar released a statement saying that Myanmar’s relationship with North Korea should be closely scrutinized. “North Korea is believed to be continuing development of its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons program…over five years ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was informed…of Burma’s reported intention to develop nuclear weapons in coordination with North Korea” Lugar said. For years the United States has imposed a number of sanctions against the country and there is almost no chance that this trip will lead to a loosening of those sanctions.