Obama Aims for Closer Ties With Laos

Obama Aims for Closer Ties With LaosObama Aims for Closer Ties With Laos

Aiming to cement closer ties with Laos and its people, President Barack Obama toured a Buddhist temple on Wednesday and paid tribute to Lao culture after pledging the US would fulfill its “profound moral and humanitarian obligation” to clean up millions of unexploded bombs.

Obama’s visit to Luang Prabang in mountainous northern Laos showcased a rich cultural and religious heritage that many in the West know little about. A UNESCO World Heritage List site along Mekong River, the city was a hub for Buddhist faith during the Lan Xang kingdom starting in the 14th century.

Obama received a low-key reception after stepping off of Air Force One and as his motorcade snaked along a dusty, paved road through town. A small cluster of people waved from shops and open air cafes, recording the spectacle on their cellphones, AP reported.

For Obama, the visit serves as a capstone to his yearslong effort to bolster relations with Southeast Asian countries long overlooked by the United States. The outreach is a core element of his attempt to shift US diplomatic and military resources away from the Middle East and to Asia in order to counter China in the region and ensure a US foothold in growing markets.

On this visit—the first by a sitting American president—Obama has placed particular emphasis on trying to heal wounds inflicted by the secret war the US waged here as part of the broader Vietnam War.

Acknowledging the dark aftershocks of the US aerial bombardment, Obama paid tribute on Wednesday to survivors maimed by some 80 million unexploded bombs America dropped and said the US will do more to help clean them up.

Touring a rehabilitation center in Vientiane, the capital, Obama touted his administration’s move to double spending on ordinance cleanup to roughly $90 million over three years.

“For the last four decades, Laotians have continued to live under the shadow of war,” Obama said. “The war did not end when the bombs stopped falling.”

Some 20,000 people have been killed or wounded since the war ended, Obama said after viewing displays of small rusted grenades and photos of a child missing his foot. He insisted those were “not just statistics,” but reminders of the heavy toll inflicted by war—”some of them unintended.”

The president did not come to apologize. Instead, he said he hoped the strengthened partnership on clearing the bombs could mark a “decisive step forward” between the US and this landlocked communist nation.