Obama heads on Asia tour, visits US disaster site

Obama heads on Asia tour, visits US disaster site
U.S. President Barack Obama hugs a first responder after touring the mud slide damage in Oso, Washington.

OSO, United States - President Barack Obama met Tuesday with survivors of a deadly landlside near Seattle before leaving 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 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 travel, 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.

Rare Malaysia visit

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

Obama begins his Malaysia programme 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 honour 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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