But we are used to his talk by now, what of actions-
President Barack Obama on Sunday told Myanmar’s junta to free pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during an unusual face-to-face interaction with a top leader of the ruling military. Obama delivered the strong message during his summit with leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations, which included Myanmar Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama called on Myanmar to free his fellow Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and end oppression of minorities.
“Obama brought that up directly with that government,” Gibbs said, indicating that the president addressed Thein Sein. For decades, Western governments have avoided direct contacts with leaders of Myanmar because of the regime’s poor human rights record and suppression of democracy. A joint statement issued after the summit — the first ever between a U.S. president and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — devoted a paragraph on Myanmar, a major irritant in relations between the two sides. But the statement did not call for the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the last 20 years under detention by the military regime. It only urged Myanmar to ensure that the elections it intends to hold in 2010 are “conducted in a free, fair, inclusive and transparent manner.”
However, a direct appeal from Obama carries more weight as he is the most powerful leader to have conveyed the message directly to a top Myanmar official. Thein Sein did not address leaders’ concerns about Suu Kyi, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “We expected a bit more but it was not forthcoming. We hope (democracy) … in Myanmar will become a reality sooner than later,” he told reporters. He said a reference to Suu Kyi was not included in the statement because there was no consensus. White House aides said ASEAN was unlikely to include an explicitly critical statement on one of its members, since it would amount to Myanmar criticizing itself. That’s why Obama raised the issue directly in his remarks to the group, said the aides.