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Obama lands in Thailand, kicking off historic Asia tour

Visit underscores Obama administration's Asia focus.

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US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at a joint press conference, in Government House on November 18, 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand. The US President spoke of Thailand's support of democracy in Myanmar. Obama will become the first serving US President to visit Myanmar during his four-day tour of Southeast Asia that will also include visits to Thailand and Cambodia. (Jack Kurtz/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama arrived in Bangkok today, reported BBC News, part of a pioneering Asia visit that will see first-ever American presidential visit to Myanmar. 

Choosing Asia for his first foreign trip since reelection reflects Obama's continued focus on the region, said BBC -- attention that has worried regional heavyweights like China. 

However, the US leader's trip has been overshadowed by the specter of all-out war in the Middle East, as violence between Israel and Palestinian factions continues in Gaza. 

More from GlobalPost: Israel, Gaza violence continues (LIVE BLOG)

Obama today praised Thailand as "very important" during talks with the country's 84-year-old monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-sitting living king, describing the nation as "such a great ally," according Reuters

Reuters also detailed the following rather amusing exchange: 

In Bangkok, a monk in bright orange robes gave Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a private tour of the centuries-old Wat Pho temple, taking them past its massive reclining Buddha.

Somehow, the fiscal problems back in Washington came up.

"We're working on this budget. We're going to need a lot of prayer for that," Obama was overheard telling the monk, a light-hearted reference to a fiscal showdown in Washington over tax increases and spending cuts that kick in at the end of the year unless Obama and congressional Republicans can reach a deal.

Obama is set to land in Myanmar on Monday, where he will meet with the country's new president, Thein Sein, as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The US lifted decades-long sanctions against the country earlier this year in response to groundbreaking political reforms there. 

Obama cautioned today that Myanmar's civic life is "a work in progress," noting flare-ups of ethnic violence there recently, saying he will address such challenges with leaders there, said Reuters

However, he added, "I'm not somebody who thinks that the United States should stand on the sidelines and not want to get its hands dirty when there's an opportunity for us to encourage the better impulses inside a country."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/thailand/121118/obama-lands-thailand-kicking-historic-asia-tour