From NBC's Athena Jones
SEOUL -- President Obama's trip to Asia was a success, so declared White House senior adviser David Axelrod in response to questions about just what has been accomplished during the president's weeklong first foray to the region.
Axelrod argued the president had done what he set out to do -- lay a solid foundation for diplomacy and strengthen relationships, even as he prepared to return to Washington without the kinds of solid takeaways previous presidential trips have generally produced.
"We didn't come halfway across the world for tickertape parades," he told reporters after Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak held a joint press appearance at the Blue House here. "We came here to lay a foundation for progress. We've done that."
The administration has come under some criticism for failing to make significant progress on key issues like gaining a commitment from China on sanctions to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program and to stop manipulating its currency and on a free trade agreement with South Korea. Axelrod argued progress takes time.
"The discussions that he had on this trip advanced our goals," Axelrod said. "This is not an immediate gratification business. I understand that Washington is in the immediate gratification business."
Despite acknowledging at the APEC meeting in Singapore that reaching a political agreement on climate change targets by the December Copenhagen talks was more realistic than reaching a legal agreement on reducing emissions -- in part due to resistance in the U.S. Congress -- Axelrod said "solid progress" was made on climate change. In Beijing, China and the U.S. announced plans to work together on environmental issues from research on cleaner coal to electric vehicles.
Axelrod said the president had made his views on human rights issues clear to the Chinese ,and called the town hall in Shanghai -- held before a selected audience of university students -- "a groundbreaking exercise."
"We didn't have expectations that Barack Obama arrives in China or anywhere else and things change overnight," he said. "But all this is about moving in the right direction and I think he advanced that cause."