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Ease sanctions on Myanmar, Democracy leader Suu Kyi says on US tour

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says, "I do support the easing of sanctions, because I think that our people can start taking responsibility for their own destiny." Watch Hillary Clinton's introduction and Suu Kyi's speech.

WASHINGTON - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi warned on Tuesday that reforms in her country had cleared only the "first hurdle" and said she supported an easing of U.S. sanctions as part of a broad partnership with Washington.

The Nobel laureate said the economic sanctions were a useful tool for putting pressure on Myanmar's military government in the past, but now the people need to consolidate democracy without outside help.

"I do support the easing of sanctions, because I think that our people can start taking responsibility for their own destiny," she said at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington on the opening day of a two-week tour of the United States.

"I do not think we should depend on U.S. sanctions to keep up the momentum of our movement to democracy. We have to work at it ourselves and there are very many other ways in which the United States can help us," said Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi did not specify which of the complex web of sanctions that Washington began phasing out this year she wanted removed. State Department officials did not indicate that she had made any formal requests on sanctions during talks on Tuesday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"We are going to do this in a measured way as we see progress, and the secretary did lay out the list (of what more needs to be done)," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters after the meeting.

"We will continue to watch that and make our decisions as we see more progress," she added.

Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy in opposition to a military junta that held her under house arrest for years, began her tour with talks with Clinton and a speech hosted by the USIP and the Asia Society.


Clinton told the same event Suu Kyi's followers and the quasi-civilian government needed to work together to heal past wounds and "guard against backsliding because there are forces that would take the country in the wrong direction if given the chance." 

In brief comments open to reporters at the start of their meeting, Clinton and Suu Kyi discussed the Burmese expatriate community in Indiana that she will travel to during her 17-day stay.

"There's so much excitement and enthusiasm that you can actually come," Clinton said.

Hours before Suu Kyi touched down in Washington, Myanmar announced Monday a new round of prisoner releases.

Myanmar frees hundreds of prisoners as it seeks to boost US ties

According to Suu Kyi's party, at least 87 political detainees were freed but activists say they are disappointed that hundreds more remain behind bars.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday the United States has yet to identify those freed and declined to comment on whether Washington could soon waive its import ban.

From dissident to parliamentarian
Since Suu Kyi herself was freed from house arrest in late 2010, she has transitioned from dissident to parliamentarian. Now confident of her position in Myanmar and free to travel abroad without being barred from returning, Suu Kyi has in the past four months also visited Thailand and Europe, where she was accorded honors usually reserved for heads of state.

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She is also assured of star treatment in the United States, where she is revered by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The ceremonial highlight of Suu Kyi's U.S. visit will come Wednesday, when she is presented Congress' highest award that she was granted in absentia in 2008 when she was still under house arrest. She is also likely to be welcomed to the White House.

That is a powerful sign of how a former pariah state has shifted from five decades of repressive military rule, gaining international acceptance.

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The Obama administration has been at the forefront of the re-engagement that gathered steam when Clinton visited Myanmar last December. In July, the administration allowed U.S. companies to start investing there again.

"For her to come here and collect the Congressional Gold Medal and celebrate with the activists who have stood by her for so many years is momentous," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, which will host Suu Kyi on Thursday. The rights group hopes a Suu Kyi visit will help energize a new generation of activists.

Myanmar ends press censorship in latest shift from oppression

But the administration is being careful to balance its plaudits for Suu Kyi with praise and recognition for the former general who has made the reforms possible -- President Thein Sein. He arrives in the United States next week to attend the U.N. General Assembly's annual gathering of world leaders in New York. Any announcement on easing the import ban is likely to take place at that time.

A crew from Britain's Channel 4 News gains access to resettlement camps set-up for around 60,000 members of the Muslim minority group months after deadly clashes with local Buddhists forced them from their homes.

Regime official to attend ceremony
In a sign of that diplomatic balancing act, a key aide to Thein Sein, minister of the president's office Aung Min, who has been at the forefront of cease-fire negotiations with Myanmar's ethnic insurgents, will have high-level meetings at the State Department on Wednesday. He will also attend Suu Kyi's Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at the Capitol.

As Myanmar reforms, discontent grips countryside

Suu Kyi is under political pressure from Thein Sein's government to press the United States to remove the remaining sanctions -- and it's a step that she appears willing to consider, although many of her longtime supporters in exile oppose it, saying reforms have yet to take root and Myanmar should not be rewarded at a time when ethnic violence is escalating in some parts of the country.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the World Economic Forum in Bangkok saying, "we just want to improve the state of Burma" and urged the international community to not be overly optimistic about her country's reform process. NBC's Ian Williams reports.

Fighting in northern Kachin state between the military and ethnic rebels continues and has displaced tens of thousands people. Communal violence in western Rakhine state in June left scores dead, and Suu Kyi herself has faced some criticism for not speaking out in support of the region's downtrodden Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship.

Despite her global standing and April election to parliament, Suu Kyi still has little clout in the military-dominated legislature, and rights activists fear that it is military cronies who will benefit most as Myanmar opens up to foreign investors.

Suu Kyi will have a frenetic schedule in the United States, combining high-level meetings with award ceremonies and get-togethers with Burmese expatriates and activists who long campaigned for her release.

March 30: Carnival-like atmosphere in Myanmar ahead of election

On Wednesday when she is presented with the congressional award, Suu Kyi will meet with House and Senate leaders. The White House has yet to announce whether she will meet President Barack Obama.

In a major foreign policy announcement, President Obama said his administration will renew diplomatic conversations with the isolated government of Myanmar, formerly Burma. NBC's Chuck Todd has more.

After Washington, she travels later in the week to New York, where she worked from 1969 to 1971 at the United Nations. Suu Kyi will then go to Kentucky to address the University of Louisville, before traveling to meet with one of America's largest Burmese communities in Fort Wayne, Ind. She will also visit San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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