President Obama boarded Air Force One on Saturday morning and began his three-country swing through Asia.
It is his first foreign trip since winning reelection, highlighting the importance of the region. But violence in Israel and Gaza, as well as the pending showdown with lawmakers over taxes and spending, threaten to overshadow the historic trip.
Obama is scheduled to land on Sunday in Bangkok, Thailand, where he will first visit the Wat Pho Royal Monastery, a Buddhist Temple.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the visit to Thailand will focus on counter-proliferation and nonproliferation.
"We’ve been working with the Thais to deal with how to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For instance, the Thais successfully interdicted a shipment from North Korea that was bound for Hamas -- not a WMD shipment, but again, smuggling and weaponry. ... We do a lot of work with the Thais on disaster relief. Obviously they had the tragic tsunami there several years ago," he said.
On Monday, Obama will land in Burma, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the country, which has been transitioning to democracy after decades of brutal military rule. He is expected to give a speech encouraging Burma, also known as Myanmar, to continue its progress towards democracy.
Rhodes said the administration sees "great potential" in its relationship with Burma.
"You had a release of a substantial number of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party was allowed to stand for election. You’ve seen steps taken to amend labor laws, for instance, to outlaw child labor and forced labor. You’ve seen relaxations on the restrictions that the media faced. So all of these open the door, in our view, towards a renewed relationship between the United States and Burma."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make her own trip to Australia and Asia, and she is scheduled to join the president in Thailand and Burma.
Obama will complete his trip in Cambodia, where he will attend the East Asia Summit. He is scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday morning.
The United States announced Friday that it is relaxing its ban on most imports from Burma.
The State Department will now issue a general license to import goods from Burma, waiving a ban required by the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003.
Jade and rubies — Burma's most famous products — are still subject to the ban, however, due to ongoing concerns about how they are obtained.
--This report was originally published at 10:35 a.m. and last updated at 4:06 p.m.