Obama departs for Asia, to make historic stop in Myanmar

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:25pm GMT

A police officer stands near a graffiti artwork welcoming U.S. President Barack Obama, on a street in Yangon November 17, 2012. Obama will visit Myanmar on November 19. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

A police officer stands near a graffiti artwork welcoming U.S. President Barack Obama, on a street in Yangon November 17, 2012. Obama will visit Myanmar on November 19.

Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

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ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama departed on Saturday for a three-country swing through Asia, using his first foreign trip since winning re-election to emphasize his administration's focus on the region.

Obama will make stops in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. The highlight of the trip is likely to be the historic stop in Myanmar, a former pariah state. The White House hopes his visit will push the country to lock in democratic reforms.

"In addition to the democratic reforms, we've been concerned about the continued ethnic conflicts in Burma," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters accompanying Obama aboard Air Force One.

The Obama administration still refers to Myanmar by its older name, Burma.

Rhodes added the Obama administration is pressing Myanmar to break its military ties to North Korea, as well, and "we've seen them take some positive steps in that direction."

The president's tour may be overshadowed, however, by violence in the Middle East and concerns about tax and spending talks with lawmakers back home.

Obama is scheduled to return to Washington early Wednesday morning.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh)

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