Diplomacy is all about talking — with everyone. Friends and foes and those whose intentions are murky. Myanmar is still a mystery, but credit President Barack Obama with breaking the silence.

After decades of political and economic repression, the nation better known as Burma is making “flickers of progress” in the president’s assessment.

Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge Myanmar’s move from isolation toward engagement. The last visit by a secretary of state was in 1955.

Each side was working the moment in the best tradition of diplomacy. Clinton met with President Thein Sein, a former general and prime minister. U.S. efforts to loosen sanctions on his country’s access to international aid might result in the repatriation of the remains of U.S. soldiers who died there in World War II.

Small steps can lead to bold strides: freedom for political prisoners and candor about Myanmar’s relations with North Korea, and suspicions about ballistic missiles and nuclear-arms technology.

Obama has broader goals in mind. Myanmar is tucked up against China’s western border, and the U.S. is looking for friends and influence through closer regional ties.

Clinton met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during her trip. Long under house arrest, the Nobel Prize winner was accessible for a deeply symbolic visit.

What comes next in Myanmar cannot easily be predicted, but without Obama taking a diplomatic risk, nothing would change.

— The Seattle Times, Dec. 2

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