Obama heads on Asia tour, visits US disaster site

AFP , Wednesday 23 Apr 2014

President Barack Obama looks back as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. for a flight to Oso, Washington to visit with victims of the deadly March 22 disaster, emergency responders and recovery workers, Tuesday, April 22, 2014 (Photo: AP)

After meeting with survivors of a deadly landslide near Seattle, President Barack Obama left Tuesday on a weeklong tour of Asia in what the White House has called a "rebalancing" eastward of US foreign policy.

Obama left Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. aboard Air Force One, and then made a stopover in Washington state to visit the scene of the landslide a month ago in Oso, some 95 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Seattle.

"There's still families who are searching for loved ones, families who have lost everything, it's going to be a difficult road ahead for them," the US president said after surveying damage from the disaster which buried two dozen homes and claimed more than 40 lives.

"I want to come here just to let you know that the country is thinking about all of you," Obama added, pledging that, with recovery operations still under way: "We're not going anywhere. We'll be here as long as it takes."

From there, the president's itinerary was to take him to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The visit is Obama's fifth to the region during his presidency.

During his trip, Obama will attempt to make progress in dragged-out negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, and reassure potential partners that he can get it endorsed by a reluctant Congress.

Senior US officials have said both Japanese and US trade officials have been working to narrow gaps on market access in the auto and agricultural sectors that have slowed broader TPP talks.

In Seoul, Obama will hold talks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye that focus on North Korea's belligerence. The US president will also attempt to ease tensions between Seoul and Tokyo.

Obama will then travel to Malaysia, where he will become the first US president to visit since Lyndon Johnson traveled there in 1966 as part of an Asian tour designed to check the spread of communism.

Obama begins his Malaysia program with a state dinner on April 26.

The following day, he holds talks with Prime Minister Najib Razak and visits the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

In one of the keynote moments of the trip, he also will host a town hall style meeting with young leaders across Southeast Asia at Malaya University.

On April 28, Obama will head to the Philippines for talks with President Benigno Aquino. He is scheduled to hold a joint press conference with Aquino, and be the guest of honor at a state dinner.

The US president will also lay a wreath at the World War II American cemetery.

China is not on the president's itinerary but is expected to loom large throughout his Asia visit because of its enormous reach as a regional economic and political behemoth.

Born in Hawaii and raised for four years in Indonesia, Obama early in his presidency declared himself America's "first Pacific president" but his Asia agenda has been waylaid by recurring crises at home and in other parts of the globe.

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