President Barack Obama today abandoned decades of Western avoidance and told Myanmar's prime minister to free opposition leader and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in a rare face-to-face meeting. The strong message, delivered during his summit with leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations, signals a further thawing in diplomatic relations as the administration pressures Myanmar's ruling junta on human rights ahead of next year's elections.
A joint statement—the first ever between a US president and ASEAN—stopped short of calling for Suu Kyi's release, urging Myanmar to ensure the elections are "conducted in a free, fair, inclusive, and transparent manner." White House aides downplayed the omission, saying it would amount to Myanmar criticizing itself. Gen. Thein Sein did not address leaders' concerns about Suu Kyi, said Malaysian PM Najib Razak. "We expected a bit more, but it was not forthcoming," he said.