by Perry Bacon Jr.

President Obama is emphasizing the importance of his trip to Brazil this weekend, even as unrest in Libya and the crisis in Japan dominate the news and his national security briefings.

“In recent weeks, we’ve seen how turmoil and tragedy around the globe can affect our own prosperity and security; how events abroad often have implications for everything from markets on Wall Street to families’ wallets on Main Street. And as a nation, we will continue to do everything we can both to promote stability and democracy in the Middle East and help the people of Japan recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami,” he wrote in an op-ed published Friday in USA Today.

“But in this increasingly interconnected and fiercely competitive world, our top priority has to be creating and sustaining new jobs and new opportunities for our people. That’s one of the reasons I will travel to Latin America this week.”

The trip to South and Central America is mainly to highlight economic and cultural ties between the United States and that region, where Obama has not visited much as president. Leaders in the region are highly anticipating Obama’s visit.

But it comes amid some criticism that the president has too carefully kept to his schedule in the midst of two international crises. Earlier this week, he was interviewed by ESPN, where he gave his predictions for the NCAA basketball tournament and also attended two events for donors to the Democratic Party.

White House officials play down those concerns. They say the foreign trip is vital to the most important issue to most everyday Americans: the economy. And they say Obama can handle more than one major issue at once.

“There are crises all the time and for every president. And again, this one is happening halfway around the world, and it is severe, and it is important, and it is the focus of a great deal of the president’s attention,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, “as are the events in the Middle East; as are the agenda items that he is pursuing to grow the economy and increase jobs in America....”

He added, “It is also important ...that the president did in that very brief interview on ESPN and ESPN2 was ask Americans, as they were filling out their own brackets, take the time to go to and make donations to a variety of charitable organizations that are organizing donations to help the Japanese in this very serious situation that they find themselves in. And so, yes, I do think it was appropriate.”