WASHINGTON >> President Barack Obama faces thorny talks about the fight against the Islamic State group, climate change and human rights when he sets off this week across the Pacific for an eight-day valedictory tour through Asia.
Obama is to leave Wednesday to attend back-to-back summits in Hangzhou, China, and Vientiane, Laos. Coming five months from the end of Obama’s term, the White House has planned the trip as a moment to highlight his administration’s seven-year effort to expand U.S. influence Asia, including his push for massive free-trade and a landmark climate agreement with China.
White House officials said Obama will underscore the message even before leaving the U.S., heading first to Lake Tahoe for a series meetings on conservation and then on to Hawaii’s remote Midway Atoll, where Obama recently expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
The White House said Monday that Obama’s stop will come with announcements of new executive actions aimed at boosting clean energy production in the U.S. and mitigating the effect of climate change such as wildfires and drought.
Obama will keep up the drumbeat in China, where he is attending a meeting of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market economies. Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to offer an update on the nation’s progress toward ratifying the Paris agreement. White House officials have said they hope the historic climate change pact could enter into force by the end of the year.
But Obama’s climate change agenda will only be part of his busy agenda. Obama will sit down Sunday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the first meeting since a failed summer coup added new tensions to an already complex relationship.
Obama and Erdogan are slated to discuss the recent clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The U.S. has criticized Turkey, a NATO ally, for the assault, saying the conflict distracts from the fight against the Islamic State group. Erdogan has said he plans to continue the operations until the Kurdish forces no longer pose a security threat to Ankara.
The meeting also comes as Turkey is pressing the U.S. to extradite a U.S.-based Muslim cleric it blames for the July coup. U.S. officials have pleaded for patience as the legal process unwinds, but the U.S. is clearly under pressure to move quickly.
Obama’s schedule also includes a visit with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody anti-drug campaign has drawn criticism from human rights activists. The president plans to raise those concerns with the new leader, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Monday.
Rhodes said Obama will use the trip to make the case for this Trans-Pacific free-trade agreement, a massive multination deal that has stalled out in Congress amid fierce election-year opposition from both Democrats and Republicans.
As a centerpiece of Obama’s Asia policy, the agreement is seen as a “litmus for U.S. leadership,” Rhodes said.
“It’s also seen as a demonstration of America’s commitment to be a Pacific power. And we would be stepping back from that leadership role, we would be ceding the region to countries like China who do not set the same types of high standards for trade agreements” if the U.S. does not follow through with TPP, he said.
While in Asia, Obama will also pay the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Laos, where he’ll see both the president and prime minister. Ahead of the visit, the White House acknowledged the “very difficult history” between the countries, alluding to the roughly 270 million cluster bombs the U.S. dropped on Laos in the “secret war” during the Vietnam War. Obama is expected to announce new steps to help clear unexploded ordinance from Laos.