Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday that receiving the US Congress Congressional Gold Medal award, the highest civilian honor, was “one of the most moving days of my life,” and a short while later she met President Barrack Obama in the White House.
|US President Barack Obama meets with Aung San Suu Kyi in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, September 19, 2012, in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP|
The 67-year-old Nobel laureate said it was worth the years of waiting to be honored “in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land.”
She then met privately in the White House with Obama, another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Obama “expressed his admiration for her courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years,” according to a statement from the White House,” according to a statement.
The White House said the president “reaffirmed the determination of the United States to support their sustained efforts to promote political and economic reforms and to ensure full protection of the fundamental rights of the Burmese people.”
The private, informal visit seemed design not to offend Burma’s reformist president Thein Sein, who will speak to the UN General Assembly in New York City next week. Suu Kyi has expressed admiration for Thein Sein’s commitment to reform the once pariah state.
At the medal ceremony, House and Senate leaders joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in praising Suu Kyi, with many expressing astonishment at the changes sweeping over Burma, which have led to Suu Kyi moving from house arrest to the nation’s parliament in a few years time.
Many US lawmakers who have supported Burma over the years expressed their admiration for Suu Kyi.
Republican Sen. Minority leader Mitch McConnell who has been a strong advocate of Suu Kyi and the democracy movement in Burma for almost two decades, said: "And it is impossible today, all these years later, not to be moved by the thought that this most unlikely of revolutionaries may yet witness the deepest longing of her heart.”
An emotional Republican Sen. John McCain thanked Suu Kyi for teaching him about courage.
"I consider myself very fortunate to have lived to see this day and to know the people of Burma, whose dignity and rights Aung San Suu Kyi has sacrificed so much to defend, and will one day be free to live with dignity and justice and hope," McCain said.
Former First Lady Laura Bush, said, "The transition in Burma, like past events in South Africa or Eastern Europe, shows that history has a hopeful direction. It is capable of miracles. There is a part of every soul that longs for freedom and any government built on oppression is built on sand.”
A large contingent of Burmese attended the ceremony including exiled activists, monks, President Thein Sein’s key aide Minister Aung Min and Burmese Ambassador to the US Than Swe in a show of support.
US lawmakers talked about years of working together across party lines on the behalf of Suu Kyi’s democracy movement, which saw her party take more than 40 parliament seats in the last election.
The US has said it will consider rescinding the import ban on Burmese products when Congress reconvenes after the election.