Obama’s diplo­macy re­buffed by U.S. foes

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JON WARD

Pres­i­dent Obama’s Inau­gu­ra­tion Day prom­ise to open his hand to hos­tile world leaders if they would “un­clench their fist” has been met with bel­liger­ence from North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and de­fi­ance from Iran’s Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad, test­ing the ef­fi­cacy of the pres­i­dent’s em­pha­sis on diplo­macy.

The pres­i­dent also has had to en­dure slights from Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Cas­tro broth­ers, but out­reach to those Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries does ap­pear to be yield­ing some early re­sults.

Ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­nents of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion see North Korea’s es­ca­lat­ing nu­clear threat and Iran’s vow to keep its nu­clear pro­gram as vin­di­ca­tions of their warn­ings that the new pres­i­dent would be a feck­less and in­ef­fec­tive leader.

John R. Bolton, who served as Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, said Mr. Obama’s in­au­gu­ral re- marks were the words of “a naive and in­ex­pe­ri­enced leader” and that Mr. Obama “did it again” af­ter North Korea’s test of a nu­clear bomb May 25.

“He said North Korea will never gain in­ter­na­tional ac­cep­tance by pur­su­ing nu­clear weapons. That is the par­a­digm of an Amer­i­can politi­cian who thinks that ac­cep­tance is the high­est earthly ob­jec­tive,” Mr. Bolton said. “The North Kore­ans couldn’t care less about ac­cep­tance. They care about hav­ing nu­clear weapons.”

But oth­ers say that U.S. en­gage­ment with Iran, at least, is still pos­si­ble, and that the rea­sons for each regime’s re­cent be­hav­ior are far more nu­anced than sound bites and ca­ble news head­lines would sug­gest.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion has the right pol­icy writ large,” said Kenneth M. Pol­lack, di­rec­tor of re­search at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion’s Sa­ban Cen­ter for Mid­dle East Pol­icy.

An­a­lysts gen­er­ally think that North Korea is the most im­mi­nent prob­lem for the U.S. and the world, given that Py­ongyang al­ready has nu­clear weapons.

The po­ten­tial for a mil­i­tary clash with North Korea has to be taken “a lit­tle more se­ri­ously than a cou­ple days ago,” said Michael O’Han­lon, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

But William Perry, a for­mer de­fense sec­re­tary and spe­cial en­voy to North Korea for the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, said North Korea is con­tin­u­ing a long-stand­ing pat­tern of be­hav­ior that has lit­tle to do with the change in U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions.

“What we are see­ing is noth­ing new. It’s more of the same,” Mr. Perry told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The threat of a nu­clear Iran also alarms many around the world, but some think prospects re­main for suc­cess­ful en­gage­ment with Tehran.

Many in­ter­pret Mr. Ah­madine­jad’s re­jec­tion this week of any ef­fort to slow or stop his coun­try’s nu­clear pro­grams as cam­paign blus­ter. He is fac­ing a chal­lenge from some se­ri­ous con­tenders in the June 12 na­tional elec­tion.

Mr. Obama has said he will pur­sue talks with Tehran af­ter the elec­tion re­sults are de­ter­mined, think­ing that who­ever wins will have more room to ma­neu­ver af­ter the elec­tion.

But Mr. Pol­lack said the Iran- ian leader who “re­ally mat­ters” is the supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, the cleric who was Iran’s pres­i­dent from 1981 to 1989 be­fore be­ing be­com­ing the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal fig­ure.

“I don’t think the supreme leader has made up his mind” about en­gag­ing with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Pol­lack said, though he spec­u­lated that Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei “has prob­a­bly made a strate­gic de­ci­sion to en­gage us.”

Mr. Pol­lack said Mr. Obama’s main mis­takes with Iran have been to set a dead­line for the end of this year to see progress in talks.

“Threat­en­ing them re­ally doesn’t help. Every­one knows that if the Ira­ni­ans aren’t forth­com­ing and don’t grip the United States’ out­stretched hand, the U.S. is go­ing to pur­sue other op­tions. You don’t need to say it,” he said.

“It’s like the mata­dor’s cape. You keep the sword hid­den un­til you need to use it.”

Bar­bara Slavin and David R. Sands con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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