BANGKOK (AP) — Even in the temples of far off Asia, President Barack Obama cannot escape thoughts of that fiscal cliff back home.
Touring the Wat Pho Royal Monastery in Bangkok, a sprawling compound of temples, gardens and man-made waterfalls, Obama was overheard chatting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and with their monk guide.
Clinton made a reference to budget negotiations back in Washington, where a damaging series of tax hikes and spending cuts loom.
“Yes,” Obama replied. “We’re working on this budget. We’re going to need a lot of prayer for that.”
Obama and Clinton, in stocking feet, were led by a monk in saffron robes as they walked around a golden statue of a sitting Buddha.
Clinton later remarked about how peaceful it was in the temple, an iconic cultural landmark popular with tourists. The tour’s high point is a giant statue of a reclining Buddha that extends for 46 meters (138 feet) and 15 meters high.
Obama observed that when there are 80,000 people visiting the temple, “it’s probably not as peaceful.”
Both visitors noted how lucky they were to get a private tour.
Obama and Clinton met with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turns 85 in December and has been staying at the hospital since 2009 because he is ill.
Obama entered the room with Clinton behind him. The king remained seated as Obama greeted him and grasped his hand. “It’s a great honor,” Obama said.
Obama said he brought greetings from the American people “who are so grateful for the friendship of our two countries and are great admirers of yours – your wisdom and your leadership.”
The king responded in a soft tone. Obama smiled and said, “Elections in the United States are very long, but it’s very gratifying to know people still have confidence in me. I thought it was very important that my first trip after the elections was to Thailand, which is such a great ally.”
During his visit, the king gave Obama a few gifts, including one for first lady Michelle Obama.
“She’ll look very good in that color, Mr. President,” Clinton said.
Obama then picked up a photo album, which he said contained photos of all the U.S. presidents and first ladies the king has met, starting with Dwight Eisenhower and continuing through George W Bush.
“We left the last page blank” so a photo of Obama’s visit could be added to the book, Obama said.
A framed lithograph was on an easel nearby depicting the Thai and U.S. flags. Obama said it was specially commissioned for the king, who is an art lover, “to symbolize friendship” between the two countries.
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