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Washington • President Barack Obama said U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. will do well at whatever he chooses to do after serving abroad, even if Huntsman does mount a challenge to the current White House occupant.

"I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary," Obama joked Wednesday during a joint news conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Huntsman, Utah's former governor who resigned to take the diplomatic post in Beijing under Democrat Obama, said in a recent interview that he may return to the states this year and could run for office again — though he declined to say whether a White House bid was in the works.

Political pundits had noted in 2009 when Obama tapped Huntsman to take the ambassador role that the president had sidelined a potential GOP challenger. Huntsman, who campaigned and raised money for Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain, said the diplomatic post has more to do with serving his country than political ideology.

Obama, hosting Hu for a high-profile diplomatic meetings, was asked during the news conference about speculation in a Newsweek story hinting that Huntsman may run for the Republican nomination in 2012.

With Huntsman sitting in front of him, Obama praised the ambassador as doing an "outstanding job."

"He has brought enormous skill, dedication and talent to the job," the president said. "And the fact that he comes from a different party I think is a strength, not a weakness, because it indicates the degree to which both he and I believe that partisanship ends at the water's edge, and that we work together to advocate on behalf of our country. So I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service. And I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future."

The last sentence brought laughter from the White House press corps.