Myanmar's Suu Kyi to receive congressional medal

MATTHEW PENNINGTON
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, meets with Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the State Department on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 in Washington.  (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, meets with Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the State Department on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are setting aside party differences as they honor Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi with Congress' highest award.

The Nobel Peace laureate's struggle against military rule in the country also known as Burma is one that Democrats and Republicans have united in championing over the years. Her landmark visit to America offers a poignant opportunity Wednesday to present the Congressional Gold Medal that she was awarded in absentia in 2008 when she was still under house arrest in her country.

Suu Kyi was meeting with House and Senate leaders as well. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also planned to attend the ceremony, to be held in the Capitol Rotunda.

Suu Kyi kicked off her 17-day U.S. trip with a Tuesday meeting with Clinton at the State Department. Afterward, Suu Kyi said she would support the U.S. easing its remaining economic sanctions on Myanmar — a step the Obama administration is considering.

Clinton voiced concern over continued detention of political prisoners and ethnic violence in Myanmar and its military contacts with North Korea. But speculation is growing that the administration could announce an easing of its ban on imports from Myanmar when its president, Thein Sein, visits for the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week.

After long decrying Suu Kyi's treatment during her 15 years of house arrest, the U.S. has been at the forefront of the movement to re-engage the former pariah state, which has opened up over the past two years since Suu Kyi's release. Thein Sein has eased draconian restrictions on the press and allowed Suu Kyi and her party to contest special elections in April. In response, the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations and in July allowed U.S. companies to start investing in Myanmar again.

Congress in August renewed the import ban, but President Barack Obama could seek to waive its provisions.

Despite bitter political divisions, both parties in Congress have broadly supported the administration's steps to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of military rule.