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Obama Calls Burma 'Myanmar' as 'Diplomatic Courtesy'
Obama Calls Burma 'Myanmar' as 'Diplomatic Courtesy'

President Barack Obama called Burma 'Myanmar' after a bilateral meeting with Thein Sein, the president of that country. From the pool report:

Obama used the word "Myanmar," the preferred terminology of the former military government and currently nominally civilian government, in a spray following the bilat, rather than use "Burma," the former name of the country, and the one preferred by Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the name the U.S. uses.

"I've shared with him the fact that I recognize this is just the first steps on what will be a long journey," Obama told reporters, with Thein Sein at his side. "But we think a process of democratic and economic reform here in Myanmar that has been begun by the president is one that can lead to incredible development opportunities.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes defended the president in comments to the press:

He said that the US government position is still to refer to the country as Burma.

He said it was a "diplomatic courtesy to refer to "Myanmar" in his meeting with Thein Sein.

"The US government position is still Burma but as we have said, different people call this country by different names."

UPDATE: Here's the full exchange:

Q    In the Thein Sein meeting he referenced Myanmar instead of Burma.  Was that just a slipup or is it kind of a sign that you guys are sort of easing your references to the name?
 
MR. RHODES:  The President felt that given the fact that -- the government obviously goes by Myanmar; it’s still a disputed issue.  The United States government position is still Burma.  Aung San Suu Kyi still refers to Burma.  But then in his meeting with Thein Sein and his comment that he would refer to Myanmar, that that was a diplomatic courtesy to do, doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. government position is still Burma.
 
But we’ve said we recognize that different people call this country by different names, and we obviously accept that.  We certainly accept that that’s the view of President Thein Sein.
 
So our view is that this is something we can continue to discuss moving forward, and it’s a symbol of how this country, again, is working through issues that in the past stood in the way of progress but now can be addressed through dialogue.
 
Q    Did he just decide that on the spot?  Because the guidance we had gotten ahead of time was that he was likely not to use either name.
 
MR. RHODES:  Well, I think that was in reference to the speech when you asked me that question.  No, I think in diplomatic meetings, it is often customary that when you’re meeting with certain government officials you use Myanmar; when you’re meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi and others who use Burma, you use Burma.  So I think within the meeting it was the diplomatic practice to use Myanmar, and then he used it in his public comment, and then --
 
Q    What are the historical analogies for that, when you had -- what does that diplomatic custom derive from?
 
MR. RHODES:  Well, it derives from the -- well, it’s -- I’m only speaking uniquely to this country.
 
Q    Oh, yes.
 
MR. RHODES:  This is what our diplomats do.  So --
 
Q    Okay.
 
MR. RHODES:  Yes.
 
Q    I’m just saying, is there some historical example?
 
MR. RHODES:  No, no, I was referring to that that’s basically the practice of our diplomats in Burma.
 
Thanks, guys.
 
Q    Thanks.

UPDATE II: Four days ago, Rhodes insisted on calling on the country Burma:

Q    Hi.  Two questions.  One, on Burma -- the U.S. still refers to Myanmar as Burma.  Is that something that will continue to go on?  Do you expect Myanmar to change its name back to Burma?  And then on the Middle East again -- is the U.S. fearful about Israeli ground forces entering Gaza?  Is that something the U.S. would support?

MR. RHODES:  First of all, I would note that on your first question, it is the continued U.S. policy that we refer to Burma.  We recognize and understand that Myanmar is the name that is used by many within the country and around the world as well, although there are some who also continue to use the traditional name of Burma. 

So, again, we’ll continue to refer to Burma, but we certainly understand that this is something that different countries take different views on, and as a matter of courtesy, we understand that in our engagements in Burma, Myanmar may be what officials -- government officials use in referring to their country.  So that’s how we approach that issue.

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