Sunday, November 18, 2012

In Thailand, An Official Dinner Caps A Busy Day For President Obama

President hails Thailand as "our oldest friend in Asia" as Prime Minister Shinawatra toasts his reelection...
Capping a very busy day in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday, President Obama was feted with an official dinner hosted by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.  Held at the Government House, the 8:00 PM event came on the eve of the US and Thailand celebrating 180 years of diplomatic relations. The visit to the country began the President's whirlwind tour through the region, which includes stops in Burma, the first by a sitting US president, and Cambodia.  (Above, the President and Prime Minister toast at the dinner as Clinton looks on)

"In Asia, Thailand is our oldest friend," President Obama said as he raised a glass of champagne to toast his host, standing at the long Head Table in the ornate hall, where both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett were seated.

"This is the 'Land of Smiles,' and I've felt it everywhere I've gone," President Obama said.

The President's packed day included sightseeing, a royal audience, a private meeting with Yingluck, and a joint press conference. Accompanied by Clinton, the President shortly after landing in country to a red carpet reception toured Wat Phra Chetuphon, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and then made a visit to Siriraj Hospital, where he was received by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (above, the President speaks with the King as Clinton looks on).

The King turns 85 next month and has been living at the hospital since 2009 because he is ill. His Majesty presented President Obama with a gift for First Lady Obama, and the President reciprocated with a gift of an album that contained photos of the King with past US presidents.  The last page was left open for a photo of Mr. Obama and the King, the President said.

Ahead of the dinner, the Prime Minister escorted the President through a formal arrival ceremony and troop review at Government House, which was followed by the news conference.

Shinawatra made the first toast at the dinner, congratulating Mr. Obama on his reelection victory, and calling the event "a celebration for your second term in office."

"I believe your presidency will be a successful one and fruitful" for fostering Thai-US relations, the Prime Minister said.

"My visit to this country is far too brief," President Obama responded.  "But even in my short time I've seen the warmth and hospitality of the Thai people.  This is the 'Land of Smiles,' and I've felt it everywhere I've gone. The peace and tranquility I felt at Wat Pho and viewing the reclining Buddha. The strength and wisdom of the king."

"And we all feel the unique friendship of the Thai people," the President added, and noted that he is proud of Thai Americans, including his Illinois friend Ladda Tammy Duckworth, the first Thai American elected to Congress.

A photo mural of US and Thai flags was projected on a wall behind a stage where a string band and a traditional Thai music group were set up.  Guests sat at round tables, with half-filled champagne glasses at the ready for the toasts.   One side of the room featured placards with table titles relevant to President Obama: Honolulu, Chicago, Washington, DC and New York.  Tables on the other side of the room had names of Thai cities, including Chiang Mai, pool reported.

Also attending the dinner from the President's entourage were Tom Donilon and Danny Russell, who sat at the Head Table.  Aides Kurt Campbell and Jon Favreau were spotted among the Americans seated at the round tables.

President Obama will visit Burma on Monday, and make remarks about civil society and democracy, then travel to Cambodia for the ASEAN Summit during his trip, which concludes late on Tuesday.  It is his fifth trip to Asia since taking office, and will be Clinton's final foreign trip with her boss.  (Above, with Clinton at Wat Phra Chetuphon)

*Updated with photos by Pete Souza/White House