POSTED: 3:57 p.m. HST, Sep 19, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 4:19 p.m. HST, Sep 19, 2012
WASHINGTON >> Lawmakers united by their respect of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi today presented her with Congress' highest civilian honor in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama.
Suu Kyi described it as "one of the most moving days of my life."
She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008 while under a 15-year house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule.
Her long-awaited visit to America finally provided an opportunity for her to receive the honor in person in Congress' most majestic setting, beneath the dome of the Capitol and ringed by marble statues of former presidents.
The 67-year-old Nobel laureate said it was worth the years of waiting, being honored "in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land."
Previous recipients of the medal include George Washington, Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II.
She then met privately at the White House with Obama, another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. They appeared relaxed and were smiling as they talked in the Oval Office. Neither made formal comments to the photographers gathered to briefly witness the meeting.
Obama "expressed his admiration for her courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years," according to a statement from the White House.
The White House said the president "reaffirmed the determination of the United States to support their sustained efforts to promote political and economic reforms and to ensure full protection of the fundamental rights of the Burmese people."
The low-key nature of the meeting appeared to reflect concerns that Suu Kyi's Washington visit could overshadow Myanmar's reformist president Thein Sein, who attends the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, and still faces opposition within Myanmar's military to political reform.
At the medal ceremony, House and Senate leaders joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in paying tribute to Suu Kyi. Speaker after speaker at the medal ceremony marveled that this was moment they thought they would never see: Suu Kyi before them, not only free but herself now a lawmaker.
"It's almost too delicious to believe, my friend," said Clinton, "that you are in the Rotunda of our Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy as an elected member of parliament."