First Lady Focusing on Myanmar Violence

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; 8:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- Laura Bush is seeking to dispel any notion that her interests as first lady are limited to reading, education and baking cookies.

She met with a small group of reporters in her White House office Wednesday to discuss her concern about the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar.

"I've been interested in political issues like this, policy issues around the world, for the whole time George has been president," she said.

She rejected the suggestion that her desire to speak out on Myanmar, which also is known as Burma, is a departure for her into heavier political or policy issues.

"I think this is sort of one of those myths _ that I was baking cookies and then they fell off the cookie sheet and I called (U.N. Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon."

Last week, the first lady called Ban to urge him to condemn Myanmar's military government and its treatment of dissidents. The ruling junta has detained scores of activists and used gangs to snuff out protests that began Aug. 19 over higher fuel and consumer goods prices.

In the interview, she also raised the imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose plight drew the first lady's interest in 2003 when a friend told her of Suu Kyi's house arrest. Suu Kyi has spent more than 11 of the past 18 years in detention.

"She represents to me, really, the hopes of everyone in Burma, of all the Burmese, who long for a day of democracy there, a day without an oppressive regime," Laura Bush said.

President Bush, in Australia for a summit of Pacific Rim leaders, said it is "inexcusable that we have this kind of tyrannical behavior in Asia." The president said he planned to discuss the issue with the 20 other summit leaders this weekend.

In her interview, Laura Bush said she hoped the U.N. Security Council would pass a resolution condemning Myanmar's ruling generals.

Richard Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., said the council has agreed to discuss Myanmar this month. It is too early, he said, to say whether it will consider a resolution condemning the government.

China and Russia, both of which have veto power on the council, are the major barriers to a resolution on Myanmar. They say the council should deal with matters of international security, not the internal security of a country. The development comes ahead of an October trip to Myanmar by U.N. Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari.

This is not the first time Laura Bush has addressed the situation in Myanmar. She hosted a discussion on the issue last year at the U.N. and met with lawmakers in Washington this year about human rights abuses in the country.

Mrs. Bush's comments on Myanmar drew mixed reaction.

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian and author on political roles of first ladies, said Mrs. Bush has been speaking on women's issues for years, though recently with more intensity.

"She's always had an almost visceral response to the violation of equal rights of women in foreign countries and she may not have always expressed it as strongly as she is now," said Anthony, a former speechwriter for Nancy Reagan.

Paul Costello, a former spokesman to Rosalynn Carter and Kitty Dukakis, was surprised by the first lady's recent actions on behalf of Suu Kyi and other anti-government forces in Myanmar.

"She's not been particularly an activist," said Costello. "She's not really carved a path as an international advocate."

The first lady's reference to baking cookies drew laughter _ and harked back to a "cookie" comment made in 1992 by Hillary Rodham Clinton. During a campaign stop for Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton said she was always careful in making sure her work as a lawyer did not create an appearance of conflict.

"I've done the best I can to lead my life," she said. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas."

On other matters discussed Wednesday, Mrs. Bush said:

_She is feeling "okay," as she recovers from a pinched nerve that prevented her from traveling with her husband to Australia.

_No date or location has been set for the wedding of first daughter Jenna Bush to her longtime boyfriend, Henry Hager.


Associated Press writer Justin Bergman in New York contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that Hillary Clinton was not yet first lady at time of comment about baking cookies.)

© 2007 The Associated Press