Obama scraps Malaysia visit due to US shutdown

AFP , Wednesday 2 Oct 2013

US President Barack Obama is expected to push for final agreement on an Asia-Pacific trade agreement while underscoring his administration's much-touted renewed economic and security focus on Asia

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside Americans (unseen) the White House says will benefit from the opening of health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, October 1, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

President Barack Obama has scrapped a visit to Malaysia due to the US government shutdown, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Wednesday, raising questions over the US leader's attendance at two regional summits.

Obama was to deliver an address in Malaysia on October 11 as part of a four-country swing through Southeast Asia including international summits in Indonesia and Brunei.

But he will now be replaced by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Najib's office said.

It was not immediately clear whether the budget crisis in Washington would cause the US president to also skip the long-planned annual summit meetings.

During those gatherings, Obama is expected to push for final agreement on an Asia-Pacific trade agreement while underscoring his administration's much-touted renewed economic and security focus on Asia.

A spokeswoman in Najib's office confirmed Malaysian media reports that quoted the premier announcing Obama's visit was off.

"Obama expressed his disappointment that he was unable to visit Malaysia as scheduled," Najib was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider news website.

"However, the Secretary of State John Kerry will come... as Obama's representative."

The spokeswoman said Kerry would step in for Obama for his planned speech at an entrepreneurs summit in Kuala Lumpur on October 11.

She declined further comment.

The US president was to attend back-to-back summits of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc on the Indonesian island of Bali on October 7-8, and an East Asia summit in Brunei on October 9-10.

An APEC spokesman declined comment when asked to confirm Obama's attendance and Brunei government officials could not immediately be reached.

The Philippine government did not confirm whether a planned stop by Obama in Manila would be affected.

"As of yesterday, the trip was still proceeding and pushing through. But given the situation (in the United States) we would certainly understand if they had to cancel," Philippine presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang told AFP.

The White House has not yet announced any changes to Obama's travel plans.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday indicated Obama remained intent on pressing ahead with the summit appearances.

"He does believe that it is part of his job as Commander-in-Chief and President to travel to Asia and elsewhere to help create more economic opportunity for the American people, and also to create more national security opportunity for the United States," Carney told reporters.

With China's Asia-Pacific profile rising, Obama has stressed he was redirecting US strategic attention to the region after years spent focusing on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the volatile Middle East.

Besides underlining that effort at the summits, the US leader also was expected to press for progress in fraught negotiations on a 12-country Pacific free-trade agreement that he has made a key priority for his administration.

Discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have, however, run into difficulty amid protectionist reflexes in some prospective member countries. Negotiators have expressed doubt that a year-end goal for an agreement was still possible.

The United States lurched into a dreaded government shutdown on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years, after Congress failed to end a bitter budget row.

Ten minutes before midnight, the White House budget office issued an order for many government departments to start closing down, furloughing 800,000 federal workers and shutting tourists out of monuments like the Statue of Liberty, national parks and museums.

Prospects for a swift resolution of the mess were unclear, raising concerns over the impact on the struggling US economic recovery.

The impasse, marked by ugly partisan rhetoric in the bitterly divided US political system, has seen Republicans repeatedly try to tie new government funding to attempts to defund, delay or dismantle Obama's signature health care law.

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