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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Obama scores twin coups on Iran, economy

Fri Sep 25, 2009 5:37pm EDT
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By Steve Holland - Analysis

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - President Barack Obama scored twin diplomatic coups on Friday, seizing the world stage to forge a new allied call for action against Iran and a framework for global economic growth.

The moves ended a week of intense focus on foreign policy for Obama and could help shore up his standing among Americans after recent weeks during which his popularity fell to about 51 percent from highs around 70 percent after he took office in January.

From the United Nations in New York to a Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh, it was all Obama all the time. He declared a "new era of engagement" for U.S. diplomacy and chaired a U.N. Security Council meeting on nuclear nonproliferation.

Despite a more positive mood, solutions to world challenges from Iran's nuclear program to climate change remain elusive and Obama still faces a long list of headaches that will test his leadership.

A debate on the cost and direction of his proposed U.S. healthcare overhaul is far from over and his administration faces internal divisions over whether to add U.S. troops to an Afghanistan war that is testing the patience of Americans.

All the same, Obama had a good week, said Charles Kupchan, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University and a former Clinton White House official.

"He has begun to deliver. When critics ask "Where's the beef?" he now has an answer. It's still a tentative answer but these are all issues that take time," Kupchan said.

"I do think it has been an important week in that he has begun to turn rhetoric into reality."


Obama used fresh U.S. intelligence on an Iranian nuclear facility to dramatic effect -- drawing together the leaders of Britain and France and the backing of Germany to sound the alarm at a hastily arranged news event at the riverside convention center where the G20 summit took place.

"Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow," Obama said.

The existence of a second Iranian uranium enrichment plant will challenge his diplomatic skills, with Tehran refusing to bend to international pressure and Israel facing some internal pressures to launch a pre-emptive attack.

"The pressure on Obama to do something is even greater because, if he doesn't, it seems pretty clear the Israelis will feel compelled to take action," said Democratic strategist Doug Schoen.

John Bolton, a hawk who was President George W. Bush's U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he considered diplomacy long ago exhausted on Iran.

"To me the revelation of this site highlights why the military option is the only option and also highlights why it may be too late," Bolton said.

The disclosure put Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the defensive. He told Time magazine Iran was not obliged to "inform Mr. Obama's administration of every facility that we have."

The development gave the reluctant Russians and Chinese a new reason to consider tougher action against Tehran. Obama last week pleased Moscow by shelving a Bush-era missile defense plan for eastern Europe that Russia opposed in favor of another plan.

"Now, the United States does have an audience that's listening and people are now realizing that Iran has been a serial deceiver," said Charles Ferguson, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.


As host of the G20 summit of the world's richest nations and emerging powers, Obama enjoyed a diplomatic breakthrough on managing the global economy amid signs the recession may be ending.

He joined in the decision by major world leaders to turn over the duty of managing the global economy to the G20 nations rather than the more exclusive Group of Eight that has held sway for years.

The move gives China a greater voice in economic matters and could have the added effect of encouraging Beijing to play a greater role in the global economic rebalancing that the United States has proposed.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Howard Goller and John O'Callaghan)

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