SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — President Barack Obama told Puerto Ricans on Tuesday that he’s committed to the success and self-determination of the U.S. island territory, welcome words that could help him with Puerto Rican voters in all states as the 2012 election approaches.

Residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens but cannot vote in presidential general elections – only in primaries – one of many factors that give rise to a sense of second-class citizenship among some here.

In remarks at a welcoming ceremony at the airport in San Juan, Obama quickly turned to the decades-old debate about the island’s status, which has some pushing for statehood or even independence. The president reaffirmed his support for a referendum in which island voters would resolve the matter, eliciting cheers when he said: “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”

The words could resonate not just here but with the millions of Puerto Rican voters on the mainland, including hundreds of thousands in politically important Florida.