– The Associated Press

HONOLULU – Placing high hopes on the economic power of Pacific rim nations, President Obama on Saturday declared the Asia-Pacific region the heart of explosive growth for years to come. For businesses, he said, “this is where the action’s going to be.”

Obama was in Hawaii courting Asian powers as he sought to improve the beleaguered American jobs outlook. His move comes as his administration has poured attention and capital into deepening relations with Asia as a source of trade, jobs and security ties.

“There is no region in the world that we consider more vital than the Asia-Pacific region,” he told chief executives gathered for a regional economic summit.

Obama’s outreach also reflects worries about Europe’s economic troubles and the need for the United States to tap the enormous base of potential consumers in the emerging nations of Asia.

Underscoring the region’s importance to the United States, Obama on Saturday announced the broad outlines of an agreement to create a transpacific trade zone encompassing the United States and eight other nations. He said details must still be worked out, but the goal is to complete the deal by next year. ‘I’m confident we can get this done,” he said.

On a day of heavy diplomacy, the president also was looking to contain deepening worries over Iran amid a fresh U.N. atomic agency report that Iran is working secretly on a nuclear weapon.

On the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and was to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The timing of the meetings with the Russian and Chinese leaders was particularly significant as Obama seeks to increase world pressure on Iran.

Obama postponed a three-way working dinner Sunday with Mexico President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper after Calderon had to skip the APEC summit due to the death of his secretary of Interior, Francisco Blake Mora, in a helicopter crash Friday.

Obama is host of the APEC gathering, a non-binding forum that draws 21 nations from across a vast Asia-Pacific region. Obama chose to host the event in his home state of Hawaii to illustrate his ties and economic commitment to the Pacific region, although security threats may well dominate his private meetings.

He called the transpacific trade zone agreement a model for the Asia-Pacific region and for other trade pacts. Seated with leaders of the eight other nations, Obama said the trade zone would increase U.S. exports and help create jobs, a top priority.

He said the United States is committed to shaping the future security and prosperity of what he called the “fastest growing region in the world.”

The eight countries joining the United States in the zone would be Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. A central topic for Obama and Noda will be Japan’s interest in joining the trade bloc.

In a sign of potential tension with China, Mike Froman, a deputy national security adviser who focuses on international economic matters, shrugged off complaints from China that it had not been invited to join the trade bloc. He told reporters that China had not expressed interest in joining and said the trade group “is not something that one gets invited to. It’s something that one aspires to.”