President Barack Obama kicked off a three-country Asian tour with a visit to Thailand, using his first post-election trek overseas to try to show he is serious about shifting the US strategic focus eastwards.
By Matt Spetalnick, Bangkok
Obama’s itinerary willinclude a landmark visit to once-isolated Burma and an East Asia summit in Cambodia as he seeks to recalibrate US economic and security commitments to counter China’s influence at a time when America is disentangling itself from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Bangkok, a monk in bright orange robes gave Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton a private tour of the centuries-old Wat Pho temple, taking them past its massive reclining Buddha.
Somehow, the fiscal problems back in Washington came up.
“We’re working on this budget. We’re going to need a lot of prayer for that,” Obama was overheard telling the monk, a light-hearted reference to a fiscal showdown in Washington over tax increases and spending cuts that kick in at the end of the year unless Obama and congressional Republicans can reach a deal.
Security had been tight at Bangkok’s old Don Muang airport for Obama’s arrival but was far less visible in the historic centre of the city at the temple, although roads around the building were closed and tourists were not allowed in.
From there, Obama left for an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 84, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, who has been in hospital recovering from an illness since Sept 2009.
The king’s softly spoken words made Obama smile at one point. “Elections in the United States are very long but it’s very gratifying to know people still have confidence in me,” the president responded.
“I thought it was very important that my first trip after the elections was to Thailand, which is such a great ally,” he added.
The US administration regards Thailand as a key ally for advancing an “Asia pivot” that Obama announced last year with an eye to an increasingly assertive China. Obama, who was born in Hawaii and spent part of his youth in Indonesia, has called himself America’s first “Pacific president”.
His choice of Southeast Asia for his first foreign trip since winning re-election on Nov 6 is meant to show he intends to make good on his pledge to boost ties with one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, a strategy his aides see as crucial to his presidential legacy.
It is his second extensive trek through Asia in little more than a year.
In the centrepiece of his three-day tour, Obama will today make the first US presidential visit to Burma, another milestone in Washington’s rapprochement with the former pariah state, where a fragile transition is under way after decades of military rule.
Some international human rights groups object to the visit, saying Obama is rewarding the country’s quasi-civilian government before democratic reforms are complete.
Obama aides said the trip was meant to lock in progress so far and that he will speak forcefully on the need to do more on human rights.
In his first public comments about the 2012 Connecticut school massacre, the father of gunman Adam Lanza said what his son did couldn't "get any more evil" and he now wishes his son had never been born.
The youngest Briton to fight in the First World War was just 12 years old — but Sidney Lewis' identity remained a secret for almost a century until the chance discovery of faded documents revealed his extraordinary story.
Oscar Pistorius became furious with a police officer who handled his licensed gun after pulling the car he was in over for speeding and later fired the gun out of the car's sunroof without warning, a court heard.
USA: A rampaging, 22lb Oregon house cat with a "history of violence" attacked a baby and trapped a family and their dog in a bedroom at their Portland home before being captured by police, authorities said.
Former Irish Nationwide chairman Michael Walsh wrote to the late minister for finance, Brian Lenihan, warning him against bank mergers as the financial crisis escalated, according to a letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
A 6ft shark from the Great White family has washed up on a Kerry beach. The female porbeagle shark was discovered by local photographer Bernard Fitzgerald at the weekend as he was walking on the Aughacasla beach in Castlegregory.
One of the most senior doctors in the Department of Health, Colette Bonner, has responded to assertions from the wind lobby that her review on the health effects of turbines was "extremely limited and incomplete".