Indonesia understands delay to Obama visit

March 19, 2010 at 10:21 AM
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JAKARTA, March 19 (UPI) -- Indonesia has put a brave face on the delay in U.S. President Barack Obama's scheduled visit, saying it is regretful but totally understandable.

Obama's visit is set for June when he will also swing through Australia and Guam. He was due to leave this weekend but will stay in Washington for an expected tight vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on a controversial healthcare reform bill.

The delay to visiting Indonesia, where he spent four years as a child, came as no surprise, a report in The Jakarta Post said. Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said that, even before the postponement, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono suggested the visit be delayed until June.

"We understand that this is based on political necessity," said Djalal. "We know that this visit is important to President Obama, that Indonesia is an important country, that there's a strong commitment to launch a comprehensive partnership.

"We're glad as from the beginning it is President Yudhoyono's preference ... so that the visit is done without political rush. We want the visit to be 100 percent a success, where Obama can fully focus on the Indonesia-U.S. bilateral relationship."

Dino said the two leaders briefly discussed pushing back the visit to June when they met at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh last year.

Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, took 6-year-old Obama to Indonesia when she joined her second husband there in the late 1960s, as Obama relates in his book "Dreams from My Father." He was enthralled with the wildlife of birds, monkeys and crocodiles but in 1971 he was sent to live with his grandparents in Hawaii.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced the trip's delay during a briefing Thursday, the day the trip was originally planned to begin. He said the White House expects a House vote Sunday, which would make it very tight for the president to prepare for the trip.

"Unless we took off basically extremely early in the afternoon on Sunday, it wasn't going to be possible to do," he said. It also meant that first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia wouldn't go.

The president was to give a speech to the Australian Parliament, something that Obama reportedly didn't wish to have to ask the Australian government to reschedule on short notice.

Earlier in the week Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was "pretty relaxed" about a possible cancellation, saying, ''I catch up with the president quite regularly, certainly on the phone, and we are meeting constantly at international conferences.''

Australian media report Rudd said he believes Obama is planning a more relaxed visit when he travels in June.

Rudd said Obama had phoned him personally about the schedule change.

"We had a good conversation, but it's going to be good to see him later in the year," Rudd said. "He'd like to have a more relaxed visit than the 24-hour whip in, whip out that the last one had come down to."

Rudd, who is also trying to push through healthcare reforms, told Obama he sympathized with his plight.

Obama was to stop at the island of Guam to speak with U.S. service members. The island is expected to receive about 8,000 U.S. Marines when a U.S. base on Okinawa is relocated.

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