US President Barack Obama will not be going to Indonesia and Australia until June, in order to push his health reform bill forward.
The move, which will delay Obama's effort to intensify US engagement with the dynamic Asia Pacific region, was enforced by the need to woo wavering Democratic lawmakers with a knife edge-vote on the plan expected on Sunday.
Advertisement"We greatly regret the delay of the trip," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, adding that the "health insurance reform is of paramount importance and the president is determined to see this battle through."
"The president believes that right now the place for him to be is in Washington."
Obama, who has billed himself America's first Pacific president, called both Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to explain his dilemma.
Obama took the decision, under pressure from some Democrats, once it became clear that a crucial vote in the House of Representatives on health reform would not take place before Sunday afternoon.
"We did not want, at 10:00 on Sunday morning to make a call to the Indonesians and the Australians and say, 'I know we were going to be there in a matter of hours, but we're not going to be there.'"
"I think that would cause some problems just on common sense and manners."
The postponement showed how febrile domestic politics can sometimes constrain a US president's global engagement -- especially during his first term when his political plate is full.
Obama had been due at a state dinner in Indonesia, to hold talks with Yudhoyono and travel onto Bali, before heading to Canberra for talks with Rudd and to address the Australian parliament.
He planned to stress Indonesia's role in battling extremism and its emerging economic importance, and to build on his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last year.
In Australia, Obama's aides had said he would focus on strong US-Australia trade links and mark the 70th anniversary of the US-Canadian alliance.
He had already curtailed the trip, dropping a stay in Sydney, and delayed his departure by three days until Sunday, as the showdown over health care hurtled to a climax in Congress.
Gibbs did not rule out the possibility that Obama would combine the rescheduled Indonesia and Australian visits with a trip to India, which Obama has already said he will make this year.
He dismissed the idea that the postponement of Obama's trip to Indonesia, where he lived for four years as a boy, and to Australia, would offend his hosts.
"Each of these two countries understands what the president has been working on, what he's been involved in, and the importance that he has in seeing it through."
Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that Obama's move would likely not inflict long-term damage on US ties to Indonesia and Australia.
"For most US Presidents and most bilateral relationships, two consecutive postponements would put real strains on bilateral relations.
"In this case, I believe President Obama will be given a very easy pass on this second (delay).
"The stakes are now very high for following through with the trip in June."
Bower also argued that the postponement might have an positive impact, in that it could permit the second US presidential summit with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Hanoi.
But Walter Lohman, who heads the Asian Studies Center at the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank, said that the cancellation of the trip undermined Obama's vow to revive US Asia policy.
"The new era of American engagement in Southeast Asia now seems so far away," Lohman said.
"Already burdened by a lack of a trade policy -- the substantive heart of Southeast Asia -- now leaders there cannot even count on the physical presence of the American president."
Obama had also been due to visit the US Pacific territory of Guam on the trip, partly to see US troops stationed there.
The original journey to Obama's childhood home in Indonesia had been timed with the school holidays to allow the president to show his daughters Malia and Sasha and wife Michelle where he used to live as a boy with his late mother.
But after the trip was delayed, it was decided the girls and the First Lady would not accompany him.
Gibbs could not say whether the family would go along in June.
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