Obama Tours Bangkok on First Stop of Southeast Asia Visit

President Barack Obama arrived in Thailand, the first stop on his three-country visit to southeast Asia that includes attending a summit of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

At his first stop, a tour of Wat Pho Royal Monastery in Bangkok, Obama joked with a monk that he needed his prayers for the U.S. to resolve the deficit-reduction talks he is undertaking with Congress.

“Yes, we’re working on this budget,” a laughing Obama told the monk who was guiding him and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the monastery tour. “We’re going to need a lot of prayer for that.”

Obama arrived in Bangkok at 3 p.m. local time today and was scheduled to meet with King Bhumibol Adulyadej after the tour of the Buddhist temple. The 84-year-old king, who was born in Massachusetts while his father studied at Harvard University, has lived in a Bangkok hospital since 2009 undergoing treatment for various illnesses. He is the world’s longest-serving current monarch, reigning since 1946. President Barack Obama asked a monk in Bangkok to pray for the US to resolve the fiscal cliff.

Obama also will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The government of Thailand has announced an interest in becoming the 12th country to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s top trade priority.

Their discussions will include disaster relief, non-proliferation and smuggling, including Thai interdiction of shipments from North Korea to Hamas, Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters while traveling on Air Force One to Thailand with the president.

“It was very important for us to send a signal to the region that allies are going to continue to be the foundation of our approach,” Rhodes said.

Obama’s Asia trip also will include stops in Myanmar, a former military regime bordering China that is hosting an American president for the first time, and in Cambodia for the regional summit including leaders from China, Japan and South Korea.