Asia Crisis

SCENARIOS-Obama proves foreign policy junkie in first 100 days

WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is fond of saying he has a lot on his plate as he wrestles with the worst economic crisis in decades, but arguably it is his ambitious foreign policy agenda that marks him as a glutton.

Obama has ordered the closure of the U.S. prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, appointed special envoys for Sudan, Afghanistan-Pakistan and the Middle East, engaged old foes Iran and Cuba, sought to thaw frosty ties with Russia and tried to mend fences with European allies alienated by his predecessor George W. Bush's "go-it-alone" style.

Analysts agree Obama's efforts to make a sharp break with Bush were arguably the easy part. He has laid the foundation for a new less aggressive foreign policy, but delivering concrete results will be harder.

Here are a few of the foreign policy challenges he has tackled and the problems he still faces:


Obama has ordered an end to combat operations in Iraq by the end of August 2010 and the eventual withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011. Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq over the past year, but a spike in suicide bombings underscore the unpredictability of Iraq and could still jeopardize that timetable.

Obama, through his new envoy Chris Hill, is likely to put more pressure on the leaders of Iraq's Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs to reach political compromises on a host of issues that threaten potential violence.


In a sharp break from the Bush administration's policy of isolating Iran, Obama has explored the possibility of direct talks without preconditions, offering the hope of renewed ties if it "unclenches its fist". But, while Obama has changed Washington's tone toward Iran, his policy goal is no different from Bush's -- to stop it from building a nuclear bomb.

And like the Bush administration, he also favors a carrot and stick approach, offering economic incentives but also the threat of more sanctions if Iran continues its nuclear work.

The rhetoric emanating from Iran has not noticeably softened in response to Obama's outreach. In fact Tehran has jailed a U.S.-Iranian journalist on spy charges Washington says are false and pushed ahead with its uranium enrichment work.

In the end, the first tentative diplomatic forays are likely to take place out of public sight to give both sides more room to maneuver.


Obama's vice president, Joe Biden, coined a new catch-phrase when he said the new administration wanted to "press the reset button" on U.S.-Russian ties that soured under Bush and then-Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Obama and Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev, appeared to hit it off at the G-20 summit in London and committed themselves to reducing their countries' nuclear arsenals. With the arms control pact due to expire in December, a senior White House official to work on a new treaty would be a foreign policy priority in the next few months.

Washington is still at odds with Moscow over U.S. plans to establish a missile shield in eastern Europe, but Obama needs Moscow's help in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. Likely to be discussed when Obama travels to Moscow later this year.


If Obama is serious about reaching out to the Muslim world, then movement on resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is critical. He has reiterated his desire for a two-state solution and dispatched his secretary of state Hillary Clinton and new envoy George Mitchell to the region but has yet to come up with a new strategy to push the stalled peace process forward.

The senior White House official said Obama would become more deeply involved in the peace process in coming months. He has already invited Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House for separate talks ahead of a planned visit to the region possibly in June.


Now dubbed "Obama's war" after he put his stamp on the seven-year-old conflict by unveiling a new strategy aimed at crushing al Qaeda and ordering 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan. The United States also plans to send billions of dollars in aid to neighboring Pakistan to shore up the weak government and combat the growing threat of the Taliban there.

Obama's plan hinges on the ability of Afghanistan's security forces to take the lead in the fighting so U.S. forces can begin to withdraw. To that end he has dispatched 4,000 military trainers. But the training will take time and that is something in short supply.

Analysts say it will be important for Obama to persuade India to withdraw some of its troops from its border with Pakistan. That would free up Islamabad to send more troops to combat the Taliban in the west of the country.


Obama has found it tough going with the communist state, where diplomacy is often a case of one step forward and three steps back. Pyongyang has responded to his offer of normal ties by launching a long-range rocket, pulling out of six-party nuclear talks and kicking out U.N. nuclear inspectors.

Analysts suspect North Korea, which has used its military threat for years to gain global attention, may be testing Obama and trying to seek more concessions. Expect to see Washington working with China, a key supplier of energy and aid to North Korea, to coax Pyongyang to rejoin the six-party talks,


It is here that Obama has shown a willingness to set aside rigid ideological differences of the past. He eased restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba and removed limits on how much money they can send to family there, although he kept the 47-year-old trade embargo largely intact.

The move drew conciliatory remarks from Cuban President Raul Castro, although later comments by his brother Fidel put a damper on rising hopes for better U.S.-Cuban ties. Obama has said the ball is now in Cuba's court. (Editing by Todd Eastham)