U.S. poised to ease Myanmar import ban

Sep 26, 2012, 12:48 PM EDT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi graces the United Nations on Wednesday, but for once the country's reformist president could end up stealing the headlines.

President Thein Sein, the former general who is opening up the country also known as Burma, meets with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who is likely to announce an easing of an import ban — the key plank of America's remaining economic sanctions.

That follows the Obama administration's resumption of normal diplomatic relations and suspension of a U.S. investment ban in recent months to reward Thein Sein for reforms. He has led Myanmar's shift from five decades of direct military rule that has seen former prisoner Suu Kyi elected to parliament.

Administration and congressional officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans, say the import ban is expected to be eased, and an announcement is likely, although not certain, Wednesday.

Nobel winner Suu Kyi, who is on a landmark U.S. visit, last week voiced support for the step, saying Myanmar should not depend on the U.S. to keep up its momentum for democracy. For years she advocated sanctions as a way of putting political pressure on the then-ruling junta.

The Myanmar opposition leader is revered by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, and her endorsement is a key guide for U.S. policymakers.

In August, Congress renewed sanctions legislation, but allowing Obama to waive its provisions. An announcement on the import ban would begin that process. Easing the ban would also require the issuance of a Treasury license.

The Obama administration has been at pains to not let Suu Kyi's high-profile U.S. trip overshadow Thein Sein, who still faces opposition within Myanmar's military to political reform.

The Myanmar president is due to address the General Assembly on Thursday, and he is not expected to cross paths with Suu Kyi, who is scheduled to leave New York late Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Suu Kyi will address a high-level U.N. meeting on education on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

In Washington last week, she met privately with President Barack Obama and was presented with Congress' highest award, cementing her remarkable transition from dissident to globe-trotting stateswoman.

Congress has also initiated legislation that would allow the U.S. to provide financial aid to impoverished Myanmar through international financial institutions like the World Bank.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.