BANGKOK, Thailand - President Obama today defended his decision to visit Myanmar against critics who say the trip is premature, saying it's "an acknowledgement" of the country's democratic progress but not "an endorsement."
"I don't think anybody's under any illusion that Burma has arrived, that they're where they need to be," Obama said at a joint press conference with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. "On the other hand, if we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we'd be waiting an awful long time."
"One of the goals of this trip is to highlight the progress that has been made but also to give voice to the much greater progress that needs to be made in the future," he said.
Critics, however, say the president's visit comes too soon, that reforms are incomplete and human rights abuses still continue.
On Monday Obama will become the first president to visit Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, as it emerges from five decades of military rule. The visit gives the president an opportunity to "lock-in" the modest democratic reforms that the government has made and showcase one of the foreign policy accomplishments of his first term.
"This is not an endorsement of the Burmese government. This is an acknowledgement that there is a process underway inside that country that even a year and a half, two years ago, nobody foresaw," he explained.
Obama will also meet with reformist President Thein Sein and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, two of the key forces behind the diplomatic movement in the long-isolated country.
"President Sein is taking steps that move us in a better direction," Obama said. "You have Aung San Suu Kyi now an elected member of parliament. You've seen political prisoners released. There is an articulated commitment to further political reforms."