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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Obama at 100-day mark with packed foreign policy agenda

Tue, Apr 28 10:41 AM

Washington, April 28 (DPA) US President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office have been dominated by the economic crisis, but he has gotten off to a fast start in addressing key foreign policy challenges.

Days after taking office, Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge by ordering the eventual closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. He has drawn up a timeframe for withdrawing US combat forces from Iraq and reached out, cautiously, to Cuba and Iran.

So far, Obama has visited Canada, Britain, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Iraq, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago as part of his offensive to change the face of American foreign policy after eight years of George W. Bush's unpopular policies.

Progress on the diplomatic front can move at a slower pace than pushing an economic stimulus package through Congress, and success often depends on how other countries react to the new president.

'States are like big ships. Moving the ship of state is a slow process,' Obama said earlier this month in Turkey.

Obama quickly named special envoys for the Middle East peace process, the Afghan-Pakistan conflicts, North Korea and for dealing with Iran's role in the region, indicating the broad array of issues he intends to tackle.

He has suffered some early challenges.

North Korea announced it would no longer participate in the six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations, shortly after defying the United States and other countries by launching a ballistic missile.

The situation in Afghanistan has continued to deteriorate, and Islamic militants in Pakistan are growing stronger.

Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei rebuffed Obama's offer of a 'new beginning' in relations with Tehran, saying the United States first had to change its policies in the region. Tehran has refused to suspend uranium enrichment, a key aspect of its nuclear programme.

The Obama administration is reportedly weighing whether to drop the US demand for a suspension of uranium enrichment as a precondition for any early negotiations. During the campaign, Obama pledged to work toward better relations with long-standing US foes, including Iran and Cuba, and has not ruled out meeting with those countries' leaders.

Obama sought to reach out to Cuba shortly before attending the Summit of the Americas earlier this month in Trinidad and Tobago. He announced that he was lifting tough measures enacted by the Bush administration that limited travel by Cuban-Americans and the remittances they can send to relatives on the island, in a symbolic easing of the decades-long economic embargo against Cuba.

Havana's response to Obama was lukewarm, but his gesture played well with Latin American countries who are closely watching US policy toward Cuba as a sign of Washington's willingness to improve relations with the western hemisphere.

US and Cuban diplomats met Monday for the second round of informal talks since Obama took office. The Obama administration hopes that thawing relations with Cuba will encourage democratic reforms and more political freedom on the communist island.

'There are a host of steps that the Cuban government would take and we'd like to see,' State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said Monday.

Despite Obama's wild popularity in Europe, he won few concessions during his first oversees trip there in early April. NATO allies, including France and Germany, still refuse to send significantly larger number of troops to Afghanistan, or to ease restrictions that limit their participation to peacekeeping and training missions.


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