The United States announced Wednesday, Sept. 26, that it would begin to ease a longstanding ban on imports from Myanmar, one of the last major economic sanctions on the country, because of the advances made by its military-led government in moving toward a more democratic system.

The announcement was made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during a meeting in New York with Thein Sein, a former general who is now president of Myanmar. He has been directing the gradual transition away from a two-decade-long era of dictatorship and isolation that had driven the country to near economic collapse and dysfunction.

"We have watched as you and your government have continued the steady process of reform," Clinton, who has been ensconced in meetings with world leaders gathered for the U.N. General Assembly, told Thein Sein at the Mark Hotel in New York.

"And we have been pleased to respond to specific steps that recognize the government's efforts and encourage other reforms."

Thein Sein, who was making his first visit to the United States to attend the General Assembly, responded: "The people of Myanmar are very pleased with the easing of economic sanctions by the United States. We are very grateful for the actions of the United States." He presented Clinton with a large envelope containing a letter to President Barack Obama.

It was Clinton's third meeting with Thein Sein. The first was on her trip to Myanmar last December, and they met again at a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Cambodia in July.

The U.S. had already lifted its ban on American investment in Myanmar, and just last week it removed Thein Sein from a blacklist of sanctioned individuals.

The pressure for further easing of sanctions also came from Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar opposition leader and former political prisoner, who said during a visit to Washington last week that she favored moves toward normalization of commercial relations.

Political experts said the easing of the restriction on imports from Myanmar was significant for that country, which is mineral-rich but desperately impoverished. Formerly known as Burma, it was once prosperous and self-sufficient.

"The timing of this announcement is a big win for Thein Sein," said Suzanne DiMaggio, the Asia Society's vice president for global policy programs.

"He will return from his first visit to the U.S. as Myanmar's president with a major boost to his reform agenda. It's a 'concrete deliverable' that will go a long way toward muffling critics and hard-liners at home."