The Associated Press November 17, 2011, 11:28PM ET

AP Source: Clinton to travel to Myanmar

In a breakthrough with a nation long shunned and sanctioned by the United States, President Barack Obama is sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Myanmar next month, making her the first official in her position to visit that repressed country in more than 50 years.

Obama was to announce the news on Friday during his diplomatic mission to southeast Asia, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

In deepening his engagement with Myanmar, also known as Burma, the president first sought assurances from democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She spent 15 years on house arrest by the nation's former military dictators but is now in talking with the new civilian government about reforming the country.

The two spoke by phone on Thursday night.

The administration sees Clinton's visit as a sign of success for Obama's policy on Myanmar, which was outlined in 2009 and focused on punishments and incentives to get the country's former military rulers to improve dire human rights conditions. The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Myanmar but made clear it was open to better relations if the situation changed.

Still, Obama officials emphasized that Obama has deep concerns about Myanmar's human rights record, treatment of ethnic minorities and closed nature of its society. Clinton's mission is to explore what the United States can do to support progress on political reform, individual rights and national reconciliation, the official said.

Myanmar, a former breadbasket of Southeast Asia, has suffered not just repressive government but poor economic management during nearly 50 years of military rule.

It is subject to wide-ranging trade, economic and political sanctions from the U.S. and other Western nations, enforced in response to brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in 1988 and 2007 and its refusal to hand power to pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi's party after the 1990 elections.

Now Myanmar's nominally civilian government, which took power in March, has declared its intention to liberalize the hard-line policies of the junta that preceded it.

It has taken some fledgling steps, such as easing censorship, legalizing labor unions, suspending an unpopular, China-backed dam project and working with Suu Kyi.

Obama will see Burma's president, Thein Sein, on Friday during a summit of Southeast Asian nations.


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