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I wasn't sure I'd see this photo emerge from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's spin through Thailand.

Don't feel obliged to click the link. It's just Hillary shaking hands with some guy in a suit. Who happens to be the foreign minister of Burma, also called Myanmar.

To observers of Burma — the isolated, regime-run bad child of Southeast Asia — this could signal a shift in America's approach to this extremely troubled country.

Just two years ago, I remember then-President George W. Bush standing before a U.N. podium shouting, "Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma." My reaction: "Um, we are?"

Bush (and, for better or worse, the film Rambo IV) turned a lot of eyes toward Burma. So did his wife, who made Burma awareness one of her pet projects. Left-leaning Americans roll their eyes at Laura Bush, but many exiled Burmese don't. She was listening — and visiting the Thai-Burma border — when few others were.

What the Bushes didn't do was lend much change to the junta-run regime. American condemnation likely fortified the junta's paranoia, as did the capture and hanging of a once-powerful Saddam Hussein. Some analysts have said the junta may be constructing a huge network of underground tunnels with foreign jet strikes in mind. We know that's highly unlikely. They're not so convinced.

Back to Hillary. Just hours ago, members of her delegation actually sat down with Myanmar officials and talked shop. While here in Thailand, Hillary announced that, if the junta reverses its miserable human rights record, it may start seeing American investment.

In essence, she said that the door is not closed on U.S.-Burma relations. Though Burma frequently embarrasses its trading partners — notably China, India and Thailand — they at least have potential to sway the junta behind closed doors. More American condemnation from the podium will, in effect, cede Burma over to non-U.S. powers. Hillary doesn't want that.

Even Burmese exiles — though split on whether the U.S. should take a harder or softer line — hold out a little hope that the junta will someday play nicer to appease Western powers. They're actually more shrewd and attuned to diplomacy than many would believe, says Burmese exile Aung Zaw, who runs The Irrawaddy magazine.

"They're very clever and manipulative," he said. "They're well connected to what's going on ... even if they live in underground tunnels."

http://www.globalpost.com/notebook/thailand/090723/hillary-and-the-junta