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19 March 2010

Health reform bill forces Obama to postpone Indonesia visit until June

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US President Barack Obama postponed his planned visit to Indonesia until June 2010, reported Indonesian state news agency Antara.

Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal confirmed in Jakarta early on Friday morning that the White House had contacted him directly about the postponement.

"The communications is not directly from President Obama to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono but from the White House to me directly," he said.

He would not as yet tell what President Yudhoyono`s response was to the postponement saying "I will explain later," he said.

Dino confirmed that the reason for the postponement was the political situation in the US as President Obama`s heath care reform plan had not yet been approved by the Congress.

Obama was expected to arrive in Jakarta on March 23 for a three-day visit, later than it was initially scheduled on March 18, 2010.

In a related report, AFP said US President Barack Obama on Thursday dramatically postponed his trip to Indonesia and Australia until June as he wages a vote-by-vote struggle to drive his health reform bill through Congress.

The move, which will delay Obama's effort to intensify US engagement with the dynamic Asia Pacific region, was enforced by the need to woo wavering Democratic lawmakers with a knife edge-vote on the plan expected on Sunday.

"We greatly regret the delay of the trip," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, but added the "health insurance reform is of paramount importance and the president is determined to see this battle through."

"The president believes that right now the place for him to be is in Washington."

Gibbs said Obama, who has billed himself America's first Pacific president, had called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and would later speak to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to tell him of the postponement.

Obama took the decision, under pressure from some Democrats, once it became clear that a crucial vote in the House of Representatives on health reform would not take place until Sunday afternoon at the earliest.

"We did not want, at 10:00 on Sunday morning to make a call to the Indonesians and the Australians and say, 'I know we were going to be there in a matter of hours, but we're not going to be there.'"

"I think that would cause some problems just on common sense and manners."

Obama had been due at a state dinner in Indonesia, to hold talks with Yudhoyono and to travel onto the resort of Bali, before heading to Canberra for official talks with Rudd and to address the Australian parliament.

He had been expected to stress Indonesia's role in battling extremism and its emerging economic importance, and to build on his speech to Islamic believers last year in an address in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

In Australia, Obama's aides had said he would focus on strong US-Australia trade links and pay homage to the 70th anniversary of the alliance between the allies, as well as spending time with Rudd, a political soulmate.

He had already curtailed the trip, dropping a planned stay in Sydney, and had delayed his scheduled departure by three days until Sunday as the intense political showdown over health care hurtled to a climax in Congress.

Gibbs did not rule out the possibility that Obama would combine the rescheduled Indonesia and Australian visits with a trip to India, which Obama has already said he will make this year.

He dismissed the idea that the postponement of Obama's trip to Indonesia, where he lived for four years as a boy, and to Australia, would offend his hosts and embolden China in an emerging diplomatic 'great game' in Asia.

"The readout that we've gotten (from the two governments) is that each of these two countries understands what the president has been working on, what he's been involved in, and the importance that he has in seeing it through."

Obama had also been due to visit the US Pacific territory of Guam on the trip, partly to see US troops stationed there.

The original journey to Obama's childhood home in Indonesia had been timed with the school holidays to allow the president to show his daughters Malia and Sasha and wife Michelle where he used to live as a boy with his late mother.

But after the trip was delayed, it was decided the girls and the First Lady would not accompany him.

Gibbs could not say whether the president would take along his family in June.


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