Obama's Asia trip: Should he stay or should he go?

Reuters

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, Oct 3 (Reuters) - With Washington paralyzed by agovernment shutdown, time is running out for President BarackObama to decide whether to leave the stalemate behind and flyhalfway around the world to attend two international summits inIndonesia and Brunei.

On Thursday, the White House was still officially hoping theshutdown would end quickly, allowing Obama to avoid having tochoose between looking after things at home, or advancing histrade and foreign policy goals in Asia on a trip beginning onSaturday.

If the House of Representatives approves a stopgap fundingplan already passed by the Senate - something that did notappear imminent - that would make Obama's travel plans a lotless complicated, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"Obviously, that would affect the way we determinepresidential travel," Carney told reporters, explaining Asia wasimportant to Obama's economic and strategic goals.

Carney declined to say whether Obama would rule out the tripif the government remained shut down.

"I'm not going to speculate about, you know, what wouldhappen if, because there is still time for that question to bemoot," he said.

Earlier this week, Obama canceled visits to Malaysia andPhilippines, two of the four stops on his four-nation Asia trip,because of the shutdown.

As of Thursday, Obama was still scheduled to depart onSaturday for Bali, Indonesia where he is slated to meet withleaders of Asian economies negotiating a trade deal, and latertravel to Brunei, where summit participants will talk aboutsecurity issues like disputed territories in the oil- andgas-rich South China Sea.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Obama could still attend the meetings, but he may feelpressure to stay closer to home given the shutdown and a loomingOct. 17 deadline to raise the country's debt ceiling, saidElaine Kamarck, director of the Center for Effective PublicManagement at Brookings Institution.

"The consequences of failing to end the shutdown or avert adefault are likely to be much bigger than the consequences ofnot making these trips," Kamarck said.

The decision is similar to one faced by former PresidentBill Clinton during the last government shutdown in 1995.Clinton opted to skip an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperationmeeting in Japan, recalled Mike McCurry, who was then Clinton'spress secretary.

Still, there can be an advantage to being seen aspresidential on the world stage, McCurry said.

"Timing is everything, and if the moment is right tocontrast leading on the world scene to being stuck in Washingtongridlock, going on the road makes some sense," McCurry said.

In Indonesia, Obama was scheduled to attend the APECleaders' meeting - a milestone in the negotiations on theTrans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Obama wants tofinalize by the end of the year.

If he does not attend the summit, Obama would also miss apotential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin todiscuss the Syria crisis.

In Brunei, Obama would miss the East Asia Summit, anddiscussions about a maritime code of conduct for disputedterritories in the oil and gas-rich South China Sea.

Southeast Asian allies involved in the dispute had hopedthat Obama's participation could provide "geopolitical ballast"to convince China to abide by the new code, Ernest Bower, chairfor Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic andInternational Studies, told reporters earlier this week.

"If he decides indeed that he has to cancel this weekend, itwould leave a big geopolitical mark," said Bower.

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