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White House lifts trade sanctions on Burma after Obama meeting with Suu Kyi

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma meets with President Obama at the White House on Wednesday. (Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
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The Obama administration moved Wednesday to lift longstanding U.S. trade sanctions on Burma in another step toward the normalizing of relations between the two nations.

The White House announcement came after President Obama met with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's de facto leader, in the Oval Office. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy swept to power last fall in a nationwide election that formally ended half a century of authoritarian military rule.

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In remarks to reporters, Obama said Burma's access to preferential tariffs for poorer nations would be restored nearly three decades after the nation was suspended from the list over human rights abuses. As a result of the “remarkable social and political transformation" in Burma, Obama said, he was “now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed. It is the right thing to do to ensure that the people of Burma see rewards for a new way of doing business.”

The United States had already lifted other economic sanctions, but human rights groups had cautioned against moving too quickly over fears that Burma's democratic transition is incomplete. The military retains 25 percent of the seats in parliament and controls several key ministries under a constitution that bars Suu Kyi from becoming president.

Obama acknowledged that more work needs to be done, but he called Burma "a good news story in an era when so often we see countries going the opposite direction."

Suu Kyi thanked Congress for pressing for human rights through the sanctions, but she said it is time for them to be lifted to encourage more economic development in her nation of 53 million people.

“I expect businessmen to come to our country to make profits," she said. Suu Kyi is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders Thursday on Capitol Hill.