AP White House Correspondent
POSTED: 9:50 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 2:22 p.m. HST, Nov 13, 2010
YOKOHAMA, Japan — President Barack Obama, capping a far-flung trip of mixed results, said Saturday the United States is "here to stay" as a force in Asia and pivoted to Russian diplomacy as a nuclear treaty hung in the balance.
In his final hours in Japan, Obama was meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as the White House scrambled to round up votes for ratification of a nuclear arms pact that the two leaders signed in April. The administration was offering to add billions of dollars for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to woo Republican support.
Obama was finishing an Asia trip so widespread — from the growing democracies of India and Indonesia to the summit-hosting allies of South Korea and Japan — that Air Force One was headed all the way around the globe. Amid the skeptical press coverage of all Obama didn't get done, the White House worked its own message, saying Obama had planted Asia at the center of his foreign policy, helped lead a fresh global economic strategy and reached billions of Asians with his words.
The president's weekend work at APEC had a quieter, winding-down tone as even his aides joked about the trip's length.
Obama told business leaders that the United States would unapologetically and fiercely compete to get jobs to America, where near double-digit unemployment has sapped public spirits and cost Democrats mightily in this month's midterm elections. He sought to assure Asia-Pacific nations that their success would not come at each other's expense.
"We stand ready to lead again," Obama declared. The comments came in the context of a narrative, vehemently denied by the White House, that Obama had lost some international clout as U.S. voters had shifted more power to Republicans.
A comfortable-looking Obama met with the leaders of Japan and Australia, inviting them both to visit him next year, and he took part in APEC's consensus-centered meetings on the expansion of trade. He was to wrap his trip with the Medvedev meeting, closing summit business and a visit to an iconic Great Buddha statue he had visited as boy.
On the nuclear pact, known as the New START treaty, the administration is lobbying for enough Republican support in the Senate for ratification before the Democrats' majority shrinks by six in January. National security adviser Tom Donilon said Saturday that completing the deal is a White House priority for the postelection congressional session that begins when Obama returns. He said Obama would assure Medvedev of that but did not go further in predicting ratification.
The treaty would reduce the limit on strategic warheads to 1,550 for each country from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would set up new procedures to allow both countries to inspect each other's arsenals to verify compliance.
Obama is about to come home with new trade pacts with India, a broad cooperative agreement with Indonesia and a pledge by 20 top nations to work toward an economy that evens out destabilizing surpluses and deficits. Yet he could not meet his own deadline to close a huge South Korean trade pact, and China's undervalued currency remains a huge obstacle.
Beyond those clear measures, the White House talked about Obama's harder-to-quantify commitment to Asia as a strategic center of power. Donilon went so far as to describe Obama's trips to India and Indonesia as seminal moments.
"We had at one point last week the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the secretary of the treasury all in Asia," he said.
Associated Press writer Desmond Butler in Washington contributed to this report.