Obama isn't touring abroad as in record-setting first year

McClatchy NewspapersMay 20, 2010 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, who set a record for foreign travel in his first year, is pulling back in his second.

After visiting 21 foreign countries last year — several of them twice — Obama has visited just two so far this year, with three more planned next month.

"He is certainly traveling less," said Reginald Dale, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a center-right policy-research center.

"When he said he wasn't going to go to the EU meeting, his staff explained that he was going to do less traveling this year. Their reasons were that the aim of the first year was to get to know all his colleagues around the world. Now that he's done that, he doesn't need to do it as much."

There's also the fact that the president has plenty on his plate at home: his agenda in Congress on such issues as energy legislation and overhauling financial regulation, and coming elections for control of Congress at a time when the economy's still struggling.

In addition, Obama's 2009 trips sometimes fell short on such high-profile goals as jump-starting Middle East peace talks, convincing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions and even winning the Olympics for his hometown of Chicago.

"He wasn't achieving much by doing it," Dale said.

On Thursday, the White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden will attend the opening of soccer's World Cup in South Africa next month, confirming speculation that Obama would forgo his own public wish to go himself.

Earlier, the president sent Biden to Spain after passing up an invitation to go there himself for a planned summit of the United States and the European Union.

Obama still meets with world leaders, of course. He hosted Mexican President Felipe Calderon this week, and he welcomed nearly 50 to an April summit in Washington on nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year he went to Prague to sign a nuclear arms treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and to meet with central European leaders. He also went to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops.

He'll travel to Canada next month for an economic summit with leaders of the G-20 nations, and to Australia and Indonesia. He's also promised to visit India this year.

He's not burning up Air Force One jet fuel as he was last year, however, when his stops in 21 countries — including six visits to Europe — easily broke the record of 15 countries in a president's first year, shared by Gerald Ford after he took office in 1974 and George H.W. Bush after taking office in 1989.

"The record will show that he has pursued a very robust schedule of foreign travel, including a very busy year in 2009 that included a number of international summits, and that represented the president's commitment to travel to many different regions in his first year: the Americas, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia," White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said.

"We had to delay the trip to Indonesia and Australia because of the completion of the health care bill. That trip is now slated for June, during the timing of the World Cup. That's the only schedule change that we've made."

Obama never committed publicly to attend the EU-U.S. summit in Spain. He did say several times that he wanted to visit South Africa to attend the World Cup.

"I hope to" attend, he said last July, when he was lobbying the sport's governing body for a U.S. bid to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022.

Rhodes said the Australia-Indonesia trip schedule precluded the South Africa stop.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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