President Barack Obama canceled plans to attend two economic summits in Asia next week as the fiscal standoff with congressional Republicans keeps the U.S. government partially shuttered.
Obama informed the leaders of the host countries, Indonesia and Brunei, in telephone calls tonight, according to the White House. Earlier this week, he called off planned stops in Malaysia and the Philippines that were scheduled for the end of what would have been a week-long visit to a region where the U.S. is seeking to expand trade and defense cooperation.
The president instead will stay in Washington to press congressional Republicans to allow a vote on a spending measure that would reopen the government, Jay Carney, Obama's press secretary, said tonight in a statement.
"The cancellation of this trip is another consequence of the House Republicans forcing a shutdown of the government," Carney said. The shutdown "is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world."
Obama has staked his second-term foreign policy on enhancing the U.S. presence in the Pacific. The nation exported $326.4 billion in goods and services to Pacific Rim countries in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, up from $254.6 billion in 2009.
"This is a serious blow to U.S. diplomacy," said Ken Lieberthal, who served as Asia director of the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. "This development cannot but affect views in Asia" on the president's "ability to deliver on commitments."
Obama's originally scheduled stops included the annual meeting of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in Bali, Indonesia, and a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Darussalam, Brunei.
Secretary of State John Kerry will instead lead the U.S. delegations to those meetings, Carney said.
The president tonight called the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, to express his regret that he'll miss the two meetings, according to a White House statement. Obama also spoke with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to advise of the cancellation and reaffirm the importance of the partnership between the two countries.
Among the administration's main goals for the trip was making progress on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation free-trade zone linking an area with about $26 trillion in annual economic output.
Lieberthal, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said by e-mail that the U.S. has played a crucial role in past APEC and ASEAN meetings and that sending Kerry in Obama's place "is very different from having the president show up."
"That may have negative spillover effects on such things" as Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, Lieberthal said. "Overall, not good day for U.S. diplomacy."