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November 9, 2012

INTERNATIONAL: Obama’s return a test of evolving foreign policy



In his first term, Obama plunged immediately into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hoping his hands-on approach would bring an elusive peace deal. But peace talks remain stalled after he first supported — then retreated from — a demand for an Israeli settlement freeze

Obama starts his second term on the eve of Israel’s Jan. 22 elections and with Palestinians vowing to ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize an independent state of Palestine — a move opposed by the U.S. as well as Israel, which favor negotiations. The Palestinians, in congratulating Obama on his re-election, urged him to support their U.N. appeal, but the American ambassador to Israel rejected that course.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is returned to the helm, as expected, some analysts expect Obama — who had frosty relations at best with the Israeli leader — might be freed in a second term to pressure Israel to make painful overtures to the Palestinians. The Palestinians have refused for four years to negotiate without a settlement freeze.


Obama’s re-election averts the immediate prospect of the United States designating China a currency manipulator, which Romney had promised to do on his first day in office. That would have been a setback to relations and could even have triggered a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

During his first term, Obama stepped up trade complaints against China but also sought to deepen ties with Beijing to diminish the prospects of a confrontation with a Chinese military that is starting to challenge U.S. pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific.

This week, China embarks on its own once-in-a-decade leadership transition that will be critical in setting the tone for relations between the powers in the years ahead.

The run-up to the Communist Party Congress, which opened Thursday, has seen an escalation in tensions between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea. The U.S. has a treaty obligation to help Japan if it is attacked — a scenario Washington is eager to avoid.

Obama will be looking to reassure China that the U.S. does not seek to block its rise as a global power but will also be pressing it to abide by international norms. A strident nationalistic tone in China’s state rhetoric in its dispute with Japan has fueled concerns that China’s new leaders could increasingly resort to such patriotic appeals if the nation’s juggernaut economy slows and public dissatisfaction with the Communist Party grows further. That heightens the risk of a more adversarial relationship between the U.S. and China.

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