x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Bad timing, miscues and scandal: Obama's foreign trips seem sidetracked by distractions

Whether it's allegations of Secret Service personnel consorting with prostitutes, or candid moments caught live, US president's foreign trips seem to get overshadowed.

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA // US President Barack Obama might be noticing a familiar pattern. Whether it's allegations of Secret Service personnel consorting with prostitutes, candid moments caught live on microphones or launching bombs over Libya, his foreign trips seem to get overshadowed by distractions.

That's been the case here on Colombia's Caribbean coast, where Mr Obama will wrap up a weekend summit with a news conference that may well force him to confront the latest troubles - misconduct claims against Secret Service and military personnel assigned to make Cartagena secure for his visit.

In the past year alone - in travels to Latin America, to an economic summit in France to South Korea and now in Cartagena - Mr Obama's intended message has been sidetracked, interrupted or even buried by bad timing, miscues or, in the case of the allegations in Colombia, outright scandal.

As night fell Saturday, a story that began bubbling late Friday was drowning out Mr Obama's participation in the sixth Summit of the Americas, a conclave of more than 30 heads of government from North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean.

In the end, 11 Secret Service employees were on administrative leave for misconduct and five service members assigned to work with the Secret Service were confined to quarters amid allegations involving prostitutes and heavy drinking. The Secret Service and the US Southern Command said the misconduct occurred at their hotel in Cartagena before Mr Obama arrived on Friday.

Rep Peter King of New York, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said officials told him the incident began when a woman visiting a Secret Service member failed to leave by 7am as required by hotel rules. Rep King said hotel staff and police investigated and found the woman with the agent in the hotel room and a dispute arose over whether the agent should have paid her. The agent ultimately paid, Rep King said he was told.

The alleged misconduct in Cartagena clashes dramatically with Mr Obama's image of personal rectitude.

Still, the White House issued no comment on the president's behalf. White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed suggestions that the Secret Service story was distracting Mr Obama.

"I think it's been much more of a distraction for the press," Mr Carney said. "He's here engaging in the business that he came here to do with the assembled leaders of the Americas."