YANGON - US SENATOR John McCain was expected to meet Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday during a visit for talks with the new army-backed government and opposition.
The senior Republican's visit comes as President Barack Obama, who beat McCain in the 2008 White House race, pursues greater engagement with the military-dominated nation.
On Wednesday McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, met with Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo and Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in the capital Naypyidaw, according to state media.
They "exchanged views on promotion of bilateral ties and cooperation between the two countries," the New Light of Myanmar reported.
On Thursday McCain was expected to hold talks in Yangon with Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest in November shortly after the junta held the first election in 20 years.
The vote, which was won by the military's political proxies, was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and intimidation.
Suu Kyi's party was abolished by the junta for boycotting the poll and has no voice in the new parliament.
McCain wrote on the Twitter micro-blogging website he was "looking forward to seeing my inspiration, Aung San Suu Kyi. It has been a long, long time."
He was also expected to meet Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the National Democratic Force, formed by a group of former members of Suu Kyi's party who broke away to run in the November vote and won several seats in parliament.
"We will discuss the hot issues here like sanctions and (a prisoner) amnesty," Khin Maung Swe told AFP.
Rights groups criticised Myanmar last week after it released thousands of prisoners last month in a so-called amnesty. Most of them were common criminals rather than political prisoners.
McCain's talks follow a visit last month by senior US diplomat Joseph Yun, who called for "meaningful, concrete steps" towards democracy, respect for human rights, and the release of political prisoners, the US embassy said.
It was the highest-level meeting between the two nations since the handover of power to the new government.
US President Barack Obama's administration in 2009 launched a drive to engage with Myanmar's junta.
But Washington has voiced disappointment with the results of the dialogue and refused to ease sanctions.
Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said in Washington on Tuesday that patience was wearing thin with Myanmar over efforts to move towards democracy, but he added that the United States would maintain a two-year-old policy of dialogue with the regime.
"It is not enough to say, 'Be patient, give us time.' There has been an enormous amount of time and substantial patience," Campbell said.
The Republican Party has also criticised the November election as a farce to rubber-stamp regime-backed candidates. --AFP