Obama begins 10-day overseas tour in India

4-nation trip aims to lift democracy and US economy

By Erica Werner
Associated Press / November 6, 2010

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WASHINGTON — President Obama left the fallout from the Democrats’ election drubbing behind yesterday as he headed for India and what’s likely to be a friendlier reception in the world’s largest democracy.

Before departing, Obama said the nation’s latest unemployment report — showing a net gain of 151,000 jobs last month — was encouraging but “not good enough.’’ In a gesture toward resurgent Republicans, the president said he was open to “any idea, any proposal’’ to get the economy growing faster.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, boarded Air Force One at midmorning to fly to Mumbai, India, where he was to arrive around noon local time today. It’s the first stop on a 10-day tour through India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan, the longest foreign outing of his presidency.

Obama’s trip aims to seek out economic benefit for the United States, but advisers are also emphasizing his decision to visit four vibrant, growing democracies. It’s an itinerary meant to reinforce support for democratic values as the US commitment to human rights worldwide has come into question.

The president returns to the United States Nov. 14, a day ahead of a lame-duck congressional session in which the president will have to scratch for compromise with emboldened Republicans on extending George W. Bush-era tax cuts, among other issues.

The Asia trip is anchored by must-attend gatherings of world leaders in South Korea and Japan.

This week’s Democratic bloodletting is sure to dog Obama to the other side of the world. He’ll be meeting with growing powers certain to be keenly aware they’re dealing with a newly weakened president backed by a divided Congress.

The trip to India is Obama’s first to the burgeoning nation of 1.2 billion, a huge and growing trading partner where US officials see infinite potential. The president is spending three days there, dividing his time between Mumbai, the financial center on the coast of the Arabian Sea, and the capital of New Delhi. It’s the longest single stretch he’s spent in any foreign country, a point US officials emphasize.

“The primary purpose is to take a bunch of US companies and open up markets so that we can sell in Asia, in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and we can create jobs here in the United States,’’ Obama told reporters Thursday.

The president will meet with US and Indian business leaders, and the White House hopes some commercial deals will be finalized, possibly including purchases of Boeing aircraft by India. The United States also will be pushing for more favorable terms for its exports.

The trip includes a stop in Indonesia, where Obama lived with his mother and Indonesian stepfather between the ages of 6 and 10.

The president is squeezing in some sightseeing, including a visit to the enormous Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia, a Great Buddha statue in Japan, and the Gandhi museum in Mumbai.

The president’s popularity overseas has mostly held steady even as it has waned at home, and he’s making a point to engage with the populace along the way. He’s meeting with schoolchildren and holding a town hall for college students in India and speaking to a large, open crowd in Indonesia.

US economic concerns will be front and center at a summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Seoul, followed by a meeting in Yokohama, Japan, of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Obama hopes to be able to announce concrete progress on a Korea free-trade agreement, which has long been stalled in Congress primarily because of opposition from Democratic lawmakers over barriers to sales of US autos in Korea. A more heavily Republican Congress could be more amenable to the deal.

Also high on the agenda is controversy over how China values its currency, with many in the United States contending it’s artificially low to keep Chinese exports cheap.