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Obama Heads to Asia, Breaks Foreign Travel Record

Even before President Obama sets foot on Air Force One tomorrow to begin a 9-day trip to Asia, he has traveled to more countries in his first year in office than any of his predecessors.

Since taking office, he has made 7 foreign trips and visited 16 countries, 3 of them twice.

The Asia trip – which takes him to Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea – will bring his total to 8 foreign trips and 20 countries.

The only other president to come close to Mr. Obama's first-year-in-office globe-trotting numbers is President George H. W. Bush, who took 7 foreign trips to 14 countries.

His son traveled abroad five times to 11 countries during his first year. President Clinton only did 2 foreign trips to 3 nations in 1993.

Foreign travel by American presidents is a relatively new practice. No sitting U.S. president left the country until Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. He made a single foreign outing: a 3-day visit to Panama in November of that year to inspect construction of the Panama Canal.

 First Year Foreign Travel By U.S. Presidents
# of foreign trips # of nations visited
Barack Obama (so far) 7 16
George W. Bush 5 11
Bill Clinton 2 3
George H.W. Bush 7 14
Ronald Reagan 4 2
Jimmy Carter 2 3
Gerald Ford 3 5
Richard Nixon 3 13
Lyndon Johnson 1 1
John F. Kennedy 4 6
Dwight Eisenhower 3 3
Harry Truman 2 3
Franklin Roosevelt 2 2
Herbert Hoover 0 0
Calvin Coolidge 0 0
Warren Harding 0 0
Woodrow Wilson 0 0
William Howard Taft 1 1
Theodore Roosevelt 0 0
Source: Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State

Mr. Obama's destinations in Asia are all first-time visits for him – including two stops in China: Shanghai and Beijing. The showdowns with Iran and North Korea over their respective nuclear programs top the agenda with Chinese leaders – whose help the White House regards as indispensable. It's thought to be the reason one Mr. Obama declined a meeting last month with the Dali Llama – for fear a meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader might irritate Chinese leaders just weeks before visiting with them.

Tokyo is the President's first stop in Asia. He'll confer there with the new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and also have a rare meeting with Japan's Emperor Akihito.

In Singapore, Mr. Obama attends the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to discuss efforts to promote global economic growth. Since Russia is an APEC member, Mr. Obama will have a one-on-one there with Pres. Dmitry Medvedev. He'll also hold a "bilateral" there with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, a nation in which Mr. Obama lived for 4 years as a boy.

"The president feels a great connection to Indonesia," said Ben Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor.

Mr. Obama's final stop is South Korea, where he'll discuss the problems and threats North Korea poses with President Lee Myung-bak. He'll also visit with U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea.

Some speculate the president might return home by way of Afghanistan for talks with newly reelected President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Obama is expected to announce soon after his return home his new strategy on Afghanistan – and how many additional U.S. troops he'll deploy there.

This Asia trip is not Mr. Obama's last foreign foray of the year. He's scheduled to travel to Oslo next month to accept the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in October. And he may stay or head back to Scandinavia to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change a few days later.

It will further secure his record as having done more foreign travel than any U.S. president to date.

Washington Unplugged: Obama Asia Trip Preview

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: