Obama attends to Pacific Rim diplomacy

U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a portrait with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his wife, Kim Yoon-ok, before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit at the Hale Koa Hotel on November 12, 2011 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The United States is hosting this year's APEC summit, with leaders from the 21 member economies convening on the island of Oahu.
Kent Nishimura-Pool/Getty Images

Last Updated 3:48 p.m. ET

HONOLULU - President Barack Obama said today the U.S. will not be able to put people back to work and expand opportunity unless the Asia-Pacific region also is successful.

The president called the region "absolutely critical" to America's growth, and a top priority for his administration, as he welcomed leaders of the 21-economy Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to a summit in his home state of Hawaii.

And Mr. Obama said he hoped for progress Sunday toward the goal of a seamless regional economy.

President Obama was meeting throughout the day with leaders of nations from Chile to China that account for roughly half of the world's trade. He was to cap the summit with a solo news conference.

It's part of a nine-day trip that will also take him to Australia and Indonesia, before returning to the White House on Nov. 20.

President Barack Obama dove into summit diplomacy, using his home state as an American foothold into the Pacific Rim region of the world he views as an explosive source of 21st century economic power.

In the midst of a tough re-election bid, Mr. Obama kept his message on jobs, even as he privately lobbied for help on containing the Iranian nuclear threat.

Obama sees economic power of Asia-Pacific
Obama begins 9-day Asia-Pacific trip

Born in Hawaii, President Obama reveled in having the world stage on his home turf, while back east the Republicans seeking to oust him from the White House assailed his foreign policy record.

President Obama used his moment to signal to business executives and Asian leaders that the United States has shifted from a post-Sept. 11 war focus to re-engagement all across the Pacific.

"We represent close to 3 billion people, from different continents and cultures," President Obama told his APEC partners on Saturday, ahead of some Hawaiian luau entertainment. "Our citizens have sent us here with a common task: to bring our economies closer together, to cooperate, to create jobs and prosperity that our people deserve so that they can provide for their families."

U.S. President Barack Obama greets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Kapolei, Hawaii, on November 13, 2011 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit.

On Saturday, largely a day of sideline meetings here, President Obama prodded the skeptical leaders of Russia and China for support in dialing back Iran's nuclear ambitions, but without winning endorsement from either man. Neither Russian President Dmitry Medvedev nor Chinese President Hu Jintao publicly echoed Mr. Obama's push for solidarity over Iran.

President Obama did announce the broad outlines of an agreement to create a trans-Pacific trade zone encompassing the United States and eight other nations before going into meetings with Hu and Medvedev where he raised a new report from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. The report asserted in the strongest terms to date that Iran is conducting secret work to develop nuclear arms.

Russia and China remain a roadblock to the United States in its push to tighten international sanctions on Iran. Both are veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council and have shown no sign the new report will change their stand.

Alongside Medvedev, President Obama said the two "reaffirmed our intention to work to shape a common response" on Iran.

Shortly after, Mr. Obama joined Hu, in a run of back-to-back diplomacy with the heads of two countries that have complicated and at times divisive relations with the United States, occasional partners in joint international endeavors, but also frequent rivals or adversaries on more difficult issues, especially those with strategic implications.

President Obama said that he and the Chinese leader want to ensure that Iran abides by "international rules and norms."