U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has offered Burma's military-backed government incentives to expand recent reforms, saying economic sanctions would not be lifted until certain policies are reversed. People in Burma are welcoming Clinton and efforts to push for change in their country.
The secretary of state met with leaders of Burma's military-backed government, including the parliament and President Thein Sein.
Speaking after the meetings in the remote capital Naypidaw, Clinton said the Burmese president promised to build on recent reform efforts that she called the first steps on a long-awaited opening.
"I made it clear that he [President Thein Sein], and those who support that vision which he laid out for me, both inside and outside of government, will have our support as they continue to make progress, and that the United States is willing to match actions with actions."
Since taking office in March, Sein's government relaxed media controls, passed laws that allow labor unions and the right to protest, released 200 political prisoners, and held direct talks with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
But rights groups say hundreds of people remain in jail for criticizing the government and joining pro-democracy demonstrations. Many worry the moves may not go much further or may be the military-backed government's negotiating tactic to get economic sanctions lifted.
Washington and the European Union have trade restrictions against Burma because of rights abuses and the suppression of pro-democracy movements.
Burma officials blame the sanctions for crippling the once vibrant economy and want them lifted, but Secretary Clinton said U.S. restrictions on trade would remain for now.
"We are not at the point yet that we can consider lifting sanctions that we have in place, because of our ongoing concerns about policies that have to be reversed. But any steps that the government takes will be carefully considered and will be, as I said, matched, because we want to see political and economic reform take hold, and I told the leadership that we will certainly consider the easing and elimination of sanctions as we go forward in this process together," said Clinton.
Clinton said she invited Burma to observe a regional U.S.-led group called the Lower Mekong Initiative. She said the United States would also support more international development and poverty relief efforts.
Clinton also welcomed Burma's stated intention to sever all military ties with North Korea, which has sold missiles to Burma.
In the former capital, Rangoon, businessman Ko Tin Aung Kyaw, 48, said the Burmese people warmly welcome Secretary Clinton's visit.
He said he wants Clinton to push Burma to become a true democratic country and for all political prisoners to be released.
Clinton's visit is the first by the top U.S. diplomat since a 1962 military coup. The army has dominated the country ever since, brutally suppressing democracy uprisings as recently as 2007.
Clinton met late Thursday with Suu Kyi in Rangoon and will meet the National League for Democracy leader again Friday, along with representatives of ethnic minority groups.