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November 9, 2012

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

(Continued)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — CUBA

There are no signs of major breakthroughs in the frosty relationship between Washington and Havana. The U.S. says the island must hold free elections. Cuba demands an end to the 50-year-old economic embargo. Neither side has shown a willingness to budge.

Yet freed from worrying about the voting from swing state Florida’s Cuban-American community — where he polled about even with Romney — the president has room to tinker with the sanctions and their enforcement if he’s interested in pursuing a thaw with Havana.

Obama could allow more U.S. travel and trade, try to increase diplomatic and law-enforcement cooperation or remove Cuba from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terror, a designation that has long irked Havana.

Obama’s re-election also means Cuba policy changes he made in the first term will likely remain, such as increased cultural exchanges and eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to the island and sending remittances back home. The latter has become a key source of financing for mushrooming small businesses allowed under President Raul Castro’s economic reforms.

Perhaps Washington’s top priority on Cuba is winning the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor sentenced to 15 years in prison after he imported sensitive communications equipment. Gross and U.S. officials say he was only setting up Internet connections for the island’s Jewish community.

Cuba has demanded the return of five Cuban intelligence agents serving long sentences in the United States. Washington rejected that idea.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Those calling for stronger action on climate change were thrilled that Obama made a reference to the “destructive power of a warming planet” in his victory speech in a reference that clearly included the devastation by superstorm Sandy on the U.S. East Coast. Now comes the hard part: doing something about it.

Many countries are still frustrated by what’s seen as a lack of ambition from the U.S. in global efforts to curb greenhouse emissions.

The Bush administration pulled out of a U.N. pact to curb emissions from industrialized countries, saying it was unfair because it didn’t include major developing economies such as China

The U.S. hasn’t really shifted that stance under Obama, insisting it won’t be part of any global climate pact unless it also imposes binding commitments on China, which views global warming as a problem mainly caused by the West.

That issue is likely to remain a stumbling block during Obama’s second term. Sweeping climate action, including international commitments, needs approval from Congress, where many Republicans don’t accept the mainstream science on global warming.

Associated Press writers contributing to this report: Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Beirut, Lebanon; Deb Riechmann in Kabul, Afghanistan; Amy Teibel in Jerusalem; Matthew Pennington and Desmond Butler in Washington; Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Sweden; and Peter Orsi in Havana, Cuba.

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