Obama takes off for southeast Asia

Nov. 17, 2012 at 4:42 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama left Saturday on a three-day trip to southeast Asia that will make him the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar.

The last item on Obama's itinerary is a regional economic summit in Cambodia. But the highlight is expected to be his second stop, Myanmar, where he is to meet both political leaders and longtime dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in the country formerly known as Burma, The Guardian reported.

Danny Russel, senior Asia director on the National Security Council, told reporters in a conference call this week the aim of the trip is to further the administration's foreign policy pivot toward Asia. The goal is to build close ties with the countries around China so that country's growing power "contributes to the common good," he said.

Russel said Myanmar, after decades as an isolated country ruled by an autocratic and secretive military regime, is not yet a model democracy.

"This is not a victory celebration. This is a barn-raising," he said. "This is a moment when we believe that the Burmese leaders have put their feet on the right path, and that it's critical to us that we not miss a moment to influence them to keep them going."

Obama's first stop is Thailand, where he plans to visit the royal Wat Pho monastery. He is scheduled to have an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej and a meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

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