Obama May Have to Cut Indonesia Trip Short

An ash cloud spewing from Indonesia’s most volatile volcano could change the president’s travel plans.


BY Aliyah Shahid

Mother Nature strikes again.

No sooner than President Obama arrived in Indonesia—where he lived for four years as a child—did U.S. officials announce he'll probably have to cut the trip short, due to the ash cloud spewing from the country's most volatile volcano.

White House Press Secretary Roberts Gibbs told reporters on a flight from New Delhi to Jakarta on Tuesday that the President's departure might be moved up by a few hours due to the ash cloud that could impact air traffic.

U.S. officials said they hope to keep Obama's planned speech at the University of Indonesia on Wednesday.

[See photos of the Obamas abroad.]

"My sense is, our hope is, that while we may have to truncate some of the morning we can still get the speech in," Gibbs said.

The eruptions from Mount Merapi over the past two weeks have resulted in 153 deaths. It is still emitting ash, thought it has not had a major eruption since Friday.

It isn't the first time Obama's plans to the largest Muslim-majority nation have been disrupted. He's had to cancel two previously planned trips to Indonesia—once to push his health care bill, and another time due to the massive Gulf oil spill.

As scheduled, the Indonesia stay — part of a 10-day Asia trip — was less than 24 hours, with Obama scheduled to leave midday on Wednesday.

Obama and the First Lady arrived late afternoon on Tuesday and were greeted by several dignitaries. Obama then met with the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

He's also scheduled to visit the Istiqlal Mosque—the largest in Southeast Asia.

At a news conference Obama said Indonesia "has changed completely" since he lived there as a child. He said "It's wonderful to be here," and wished he could stay longer.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on Obama.]

Obama moved to Jakarta when he was 6 years old, after his divorced mother remarried and Indonesian man. They lived there until he was 10.

"I feel great affection for the people here," he said, noting that he has a sister who is half-Indonesian and that his mother lived and worked in the country for a long time. He said he was taken by "the sights and sounds" that brought back memories of his youth.

The President won't have time to visit his childhood haunts, but he plans to speak about his life in Indonesia during the speech at the university.

After Indonesia, the President will head to South Korea and Japan before returning Washington on Sunday.