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    Obama praises, encourages change in Burma

    President Obama
    shakes hands with President Thein Sein of Myanmar 
    (Photo: SAUL LOEB,
    AFP/Getty Images)
    David Jackson
    May 20, 2013
    President Obama
    praised changes in the country he repeatedly referred to as “Myanmar”
    on Monday, but he added that the military government there needs to go even
    While official U.S.
    policy refers to the Asian nation by its older name — Burma — Obama used the
    name preferred by the ruling military government in encouraging President Thein
    Sein to continue on the difficult path of political and economic change.
    “As President
    Sein is the first to admit, this is a long journey and there is still much work
    to be done,” Obama said.
    Holding out the
    hope of increased trade and investment with the United States and other
    nations, Obama said: “We very much appreciate your efforts and leadership
    in leading Myanmar in a new direction.”
    White House
    spokesman Jay Carney said the name Burma remains official U.S. policy, but the
    U.S. government “over time has begun to allow limited use of the name
    Myanmar as a diplomatic courtesy.”
    Hailing the first
    U.S. visit by a Burmese leader in nearly 50 years, Obama noted that there have
    been “significant bilateral tensions” between the two nations over
    the decades.
    In recent years,
    Obama said, Burma has released political prisoners, including pro-democracy
    activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The government has also sought to reduce ethnic
    tensions, Obama said, though he raised concern about reports of violence toward
    Muslim communities.
    “We very much
    appreciate your efforts in leadership in leading Myanmar in a new direction and
    we want you to know that the United States will make every effort to assist you
    in what I know is a long and sometimes difficult but ultimately correct path to
    follow,” Obama told Thein Sein.
    Some lawmakers have
    questioned Burma’s commitment to change.
    Sen. Marco Rubio,
    R-Fla., said he is hopeful about reconciliation between the United States and
    the country he called Burma, but there has been has been “some
    backsliding” by the military rulers in Rangoon.
    Rubio said some
    political prisoners have been re-arrested, and that “by some accounts
    there are more political prisoners now than when President Obama visited Burma
    last year. Given national elections next year, there remains a need for
    constitutional change to reduce the role of the military in governance.”
    Thein Sein,
    speaking through a translator, said his government is pleased over its improved
    relationship with United States and noted that Burma’s new democracy is only 2
    years old.
    “We have a lot
    of challenges ahead of us,” Thein Sein said.