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Obama will cut short Latin America trip

President Obama had been scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday evening, but the White House has revised his schedule as the U.S.-led military strike against Libya continues to demand attention.

March 22, 2011|By Peter Nicholas and Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama greets young schoolchildren upon his arrival on Air Force One in San Salvador, El Salvador.
President Obama greets young schoolchildren upon his arrival on Air Force… (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images )

President Obama is hastening his return to Washington as the U.S.-led military strike against Libya increasingly distracts from his Latin America trip.

As Air Force One touched down in El Salvador on Tuesday afternoon, the White House announced changes to the president's itinerary. A visit planned for Wednesday to the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador, where slain Archbishop Oscar Romero is buried, was shifted to Tuesday. Obama was also scheduled Wednesday to tour Mayan ruins one hour outside the capital city, but that has been canceled.

Obama was holding a bilateral meeting with President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador on Tuesday, followed by a joint news conference. Funes hosts the president and first lady for an official dinner Tuesday night. Obama was scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday evening.

Despite his absence, White House officials have maintained that the president is deeply engaged in the military effort to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. They offered a detailed account, for instance, of the president's notification of a downed U.S. fighter jet over Libya, saying he received word from National Security Adviser Tom Donilon at his hotel suite in Santiago on Monday evening, and further updates during a dinner hosted by the Chilean president.

Obama also spoke Monday with the leaders of Turkey and Qatar to discuss the Libyan strikes. On Tuesday, the president conferred from Air Force One by phone with his national security team, then spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"They reviewed the substantial progress that's been made in terms of halting the advance of Kadafi's forces on Benghazi as well as the establishment of a no-fly zone," deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters.

The president is facing mounting pressure from lawmakers in both parties to provide greater details about the U.S. military's effort in the region.

Photos: U.S., allies launch attacks in Libya

Nicholas reported from San Salvador and Memoli from Washington.

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