WASHINGTON — Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, renowned for her peaceful struggle against military rule, began a marathon tour of the United States on Monday, the latest milestone in her remarkable journey from political prisoner to globe-trotting stateswoman.
The Nobel Peace laureate will be presented with Congress' highest award during a 17-day visit that comes as the Obama administration considers easing remaining sanctions on the country, also known as Burma. In the latest step toward political opening, Myanmar announced a new round of prisoner releases, hours before Suu Kyi touched down in Washington.
Suu Kyi meets today with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and is likely to visit the White House. She then goes to New York, the Midwest and California in a whirlwind of speaking engagements and award ceremonies, as if making up for lost time for the years of confinement that prevented her from traveling overseas since the late 1980s.
Since her release from house arrest in late 2010, Suu Kyi has transitioned from dissident to parliamentarian. Myanmar has shifted from five decades of repressive military rule, gaining international acceptance for a former pariah regime.
Now confident of her position inside Myanmar, Suu Kyi has in the past four months started to spread her wings. She has traveled to Thailand and five nations in Europe, where she was accorded honors usually reserved for heads of state.
Revered by Republicans and Democrats alike, Suu Kyi will get star treatment in the United States too, although her schedule is being carefully planned to avoid upstaging Myanmar President Thein Sein, who arrives in the United States the following week to attend the U.N. General Assembly's annual gathering of world leaders in New York.
"The idea that she will be at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, to receive the highest award Congress can give, just a couple of years after she was under house arrest in her own country, is just remarkable," said Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., one of the lawmakers who sponsored her 2008 award of the Congressional Gold Medal.