US President Barack Obama has postponed a trip to Australia and Indonesia, the White House said yesterday, in a sign the unchecked Gulf of Mexico oil spill is now making waves in his broader agenda.
The announcement delays for a second time the president’s trip to Indonesia, a Southeast Asian heavyweight where Obama spent four years as a youth.
Obama telephoned Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to inform them of the decision, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
“President Obama expressed his deep regret that he has to postpone his trip to Asia that was scheduled for later this month,” Gibbs said in a statement. “The president looked forward to rescheduling so that he can visit both countries soon.”
“President Obama underscored his commitment to our close alliance with Australia and our deepening partnership with Indonesia,” Gibbs said, adding that he planned to meet with Rudd and Yudhoyono on the margins of the G20 meeting in Canada.
In Canberra, a spokesman for Rudd said Obama “explained the challenge represented by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the continuing strong efforts of the administration to respond to that.”
“He regretted that, in view of that, he was not in a position to visit Australia in June as planned,” the spokesman said.
Obama had been due to visit Indonesia in the middle of this month but put off the trip for a second time after postponing it in March due to the healthcare debate in the US Congress.
Yudhoyono expressed understanding yesterday toward Obama’s second postponed visit to Jakarta to deal with the massive BP oil leak.
“President Yudhoyono can fully understand that he needs to be in his country to handle the worst ever environmental disaster in US history,” presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal told reporters. “Both leaders agreed that they will find another date, possibly in November or before then, for Obama to visit the country.”
Obama was scheduled to make his third visit to Louisiana yesterday to check on progress in containing the leak, something that has so far eluded BP and some of the best technical minds in the US government.
Meanwhile, the White House Thursday slapped BP with a US$69 million bill and demanded prompt payment for the first installment of government expenses incurred in the effort to halt the Gulf oil spill.
Officials also said they would keep billing the British energy giant for all associated costs from the US’ biggest-ever environmental disaster, under a US law requiring oil firms to pay for cleanups.
“The Obama administration today sent a preliminary bill for 69.09 million dollars to BP and other responsible parties for response and recovery operations relating to the BP/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” the government said in a statement.
“The administration expects prompt payment and will take additional steps as necessary to ensure that BP and other responsible parties, not American taxpayers, pay all of the costs associated with the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” the statement, issued by the oil spill incident center said.
The White House said BP was given until July 1 to pay the full US$69 million.
The total includes US$29 million for federal agencies to support operation of ships, aircraft and boats and for environmental monitoring and related costs; US$29 million for US National Guard expenditures; US$7 million for costs incurred by states for monitoring, oil removal and other expenses; and US$4 million for US Defense Department support.