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Obama tweaks Huntsman '12 bid

U.S. Amb. to China Jon Huntsman (left) talking with President Obama.

At the bilateral news conference with China's President Hu, President Obama was asked about his China ambassador Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah, possibly running for president in 2012.

Obama lauded Huntsman, who was seated in the front row, saying he has "done an outstanding job" as ambassador. He cited his Mandarin fluency and that his being a Republican shows both of their beliefs that "partisanship ends at the water's edge."

Obama deadpanned: "I couldn't be happier with the Ambassador's service, and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future."

And then he delivered this laugh line: "And I'm sure that him having worked so well for me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."

Newsweek dubbed Huntsman "The Manchurian Candidate," and 2008 Obama campaign manager David Plouffe called him the one Republican candidate who makes him "a wee bit queasy." Newsweek noted that Huntsman may be leaving the door open to a 2012 run with political advisers stateside laying the seeds for a run if he decides on a White House bid.

Per NBC's Catherine Chomiak, here's the question and Obama's full answer:

AP's Ben Feller asked about human rights and then added:

FELLER: And, if I may, on an unrelated topic, I'd like to know what you make of the speculation that the gentleman in front of me, Ambassador Huntsman, might run against you in 2012. ...

OBAMA: Well, uh, first of all let me just say, I think Ambassador Huntsman has done an outstanding job as ambassador for the United States to China. He is a Mandarin speaker. He has brought enormous skill, dedication and talent to the job and you know the fact that he comes from a different party I think is a strength, not a weakness because it indicates the degree to which both he and I believe that partisanship ends at the waters edge and that we work together to advocate on behalf of our country.

So, I couldn't be happier with the Ambassador's service and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future.

And I'm sure that him having worked so well for me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.