Obama to return to Indonesia for Asia summit

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2011 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama will return to his childhood home of Indonesia for the second time in 12 months to meet with key Asian allies and regional powers, a US official said Tuesday.

Just over a year after he was warmly welcomed in Jakarta where he lived for a time as a young boy, Obama will attend the November meeting of the 18-nation East Asia Summit (EAS) to be held on the tourist resort island of Bali.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Indonesia later this month partly to prepare for "President Obama's participation for the first time in the EAS in November," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

After having to twice postpone a much-anticipated trip due to domestic crises at home, Obama, or Barry as he was known at school in Jakarta, finally returned to Indonesia in November 2010 on the second stop of an Asia tour.

He said he was "deeply moved" to return to the country of his childhood, and marveled at the transformation of the sleepy city of Jakarta he once knew into a bustling metropolis.

He also noted the country's parallel evolution from authoritarianism to democracy and a burgeoning alliance with Washington.

"It's wonderful to be here although I have to tell you that when you visit a place that you spent time in as a child, as the president it's a little disorientating," he said at the time.

"The landscape has changed completely, when I first came here it was in 1967 and people were on becaks... a bicycle rickshaw thing."

Obama said Indonesia's transformation had been mirrored in his own life, in the 40 years since he left the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, as a youth who was destined to become the president of the United States.

"Indonesia is a part of me," Obama said, recalling how his late mother had married an Indonesian man and brought her son to Jakarta, where he would fly kites, run in rice paddies and catch dragonflies.

Obama spent four years in Indonesia with his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and Jakarta also awarded her a posthumous medal for her work in studying microfinance and seeking to empower women.

In a twist of fate, Obama's first homecoming of sorts had to be shortened by several hours due to concerns about ash from the erupting Mount Merapi volcano on central Java island.

News of Obama's return visit to Indonesia in November had already leaked out, when a local official in Bali said in May that the Indonesian resort island was preparing to welcome the US president on November 19.

Bali provincial government spokesman Ketut Teneng said US Ambassador Scot Marciel had informed the regional authorities of Obama's intention to attend the regional EAS strategic dialogue, which also includes China and Russia.

Indonesia is hosting the dialogue in its capacity as chair of ASEAN, the 10-nation grouping that forms the core of the broader EAS.

The United States and Russia were admitted to the 18-nation EAS last year, but Obama did not attend the leaders' meeting in Hanoi in October, sending Clinton in his place.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is also expected to attend the summit, which closely follows meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Group of 20 rich and developing countries.

Officials in Bali, hit by deadly terror bombings in 2002 and 2005 targeting Western tourists, hope Obama's visit will give tourism to the island a boost and offer reassurances to potential travelers that they have nothing to fear.

"Having world leaders meet here will show that Bali is safe. And that has an impact because some countries still have a travel warning, like Australia and America," Indonesian Travel Association chairman Aloysius Purwa told AFP.

"If Obama comes to Bali, it will change Americans' perceptions."

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