President Obama leaves today on a four-country weeklong tour of Asia, his first trip to the region as president. But unlike previous presidential overseas trips this year, it is unlikely to produce any substantial agreements on the key issues Obama faces: climate change, North Korea's nuclear ambitions and a free-trade agreement with South Korea.
Obama delayed his trip by a day so he could attend the memorial service at Fort Hood Tuesday and hold a meeting Wednesday with his national security team to continue deliberations on an Afghanistan strategy. The president will touchdown in Alaska to meet with U.S. troops and deliver remarks at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage before continuing on to Asia.
The president has a wide-ranging agenda for this first trip to Asia. White House officials said this week he will address trade issues, climate change, the war in Afghanistan and nuclear non-proliferation, including continued talks on Iran and North Korea.
Obama will make stops in the next week in Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea, and will meet with the leaders of all four nations. He will also hold side meetings with other world leaders such as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
The president's trip is built around the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which he will attend in Singapore this weekend. He will also hold a multilateral meeting with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a first for a U.S. president.
"Right now, 1.6 million jobs in the United States are associated with exports to Asia," said Jeffrey Bader, National Security Council senior director for East Asian affairs. "And, as the Asian region grows, we could see hundreds of thousands of more jobs being created there as well."
Asia is "the fastest-growing region in the world," with 7 percent growth expected in the next year, he said.
"It already takes about a quarter of our exports, and those exports are expected to increase as the region grows and as they pursue balanced growth as the region becomes more open to our exports," he said. "And, so, we see a lot of jobs being created through our engagement in Asia."
While the trip provides Obama the opportunity for face-to-face talks on a host of key issues, it is unlikely he will strike any significant agreements.
Michael Froman, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, laid out this week modest expectations on the issue of climate change.
"We do not expect that Beijing is going to produce a climate change agreement," he told reporters. "But we do expect that the leaders will spend time together discussing how best to proceed and how to work together to make Copenhagen [the summit] a success."
Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, said last month that while the United States and China will aim to find common ground during the president's visit, there will be no agreements on climate change before the summit in Copenhagen in December.