By Jacqueline Charles
Port of Spain, Trinidad - President Barack Obama, beginning his final day of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, told Central American leaders that their region is important and the United States wanted to be a true partner.
''I'm looking forward to hearing more about how the United States can be an effective partner with all the countries represented,'' Obama told them at a gathering Sunday morning.
Obama met with the presidents of Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama.
Obama sat at the head of a U-shaped table, with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega on his right and Costa Rica's Oscar Arias on his left. Before the meeting, Obama shook hands with Ortega, whose 47-minute speech during the opening ceremony Saturday remained the subject of chatter among summit participants.
Obama told leaders that he's aware it's easy to get overlooked in a summit with 34 leaders, but the region was important to him and he wanted to hear their concerns.
''Obviously when you're in a (large) group ... it's more difficult to focus just on the regional issues. So this gives me an opportunity to hear more directly about both challenges and opportunities in the region,'' Obama said, according to a White House report on his remarks.
On Saturday evening, before Obama and leaders attended a summit dinner, the president appeared to be in deep conversation with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Obama also has been trying to spend some time with Haiti's Rene Preval to discuss that nation's struggles.