[VIDEO] ‘Laos!’ Obama Meets Laotian President in First U.S. Presidential VisitPosted: September 5, 2016
VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday became the first sitting U.S. president to step foot in the isolated Southeast Asian nation of Laos, opening a three-day visit meant to rebuild trust and close a dark chapter in the shared history between the two countries.
Obama is one of several world leaders coming to the country of nearly 7 million people, where the one-party communist state tightly controls public expression but is using its moment in the spotlight as host of the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to open up to outsiders.
Under a steady, tropical rain, Obama arrived late Monday and began a full day of ceremony and diplomacy Tuesday morning with a meeting with Laotian President Bounnhang Vorachit. The president was greeted by a military band and a display of the troops at the presidential palace.
The visit comes during what is probably Obama’s final trip as president to Southeast Asia, a region that has enjoyed intense attention from the U.S. during his tenure. Obama’s frequent visits to oft-ignored corners of the Asia Pacific have been central to his strategy for countering China’s growing dominance in the region. By bolstering diplomatic ties in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, the Obama administration has declared it wants to compete for influence and market access in China’s backyard.
In Laos, Obama will wrestle with the ghosts of past U.S. policies.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. rained bombs on Laotian villages and the countryside as America’s war with Vietnam spilled across the border. The Laotian government estimates that more than 2 million tons of ordnance were released during more than 500,000 missions — one bomb every eight minutes for nine years.
An estimated 80 million cluster bombs did not explode, leaving tennis ball-sized “bombies” littering the impoverished countryside to wound and kill unsuspecting people.
In his meeting with Vorachit, Obama quickly acknowledged the “challenging history.” He is expected to announce additional aid to clean up unexploded ordnance, while the Laotian government is expected to offer help in accounting for missing and dead U.S. service members…(read more)
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