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Obama may find Europe reticent on some US goals

Diplomatic style could get big test

By Jennifer Loven
Associated Press / March 30, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama's first European trip could dampen his hopes that a new diplomatic style will convert once-reluctant allies into cooperative global partners.

From taking in Guantanamo Bay prisoners to sending more troops into Afghanistan's most difficult regions and spending their way out of economic crisis, European nations remain reticent about some of the toughest US priorities.

Obama jets across the Atlantic tomorrow on an eight-day, five-country trip that will be dizzying even by the usual peripatetic standards of presidential foreign travel. The overseas tour will introduce him to the world stage.

He will attend international summits on complex, urgent topics - the global financial meltdown and the downward-spiraling fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He plans individual meetings with leaders important to US strategic interests, from nations including Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and India. Obama also will make his first stop in a Muslim nation, Turkey.

Wildly popular around the globe but relatively inexperienced in foreign affairs, Obama also will squeeze in a Buckingham Palace audience with Queen Elizabeth II, joined by his wife, Michelle; deliver a speech in France on the trans-Atlantic relationship and an address in Prague on weapons proliferation; and hold a round-table session with students in Turkey.

The week before the president's departure was a whirlwind as well.

His administration released long-awaited plans to restart lending by helping banks shed bad loans, overhaul financial industry rules, and revamp strategy for the seven-year-old Afghanistan war. Each rollout was crucial to Obama's agenda, but also readied him for discussions with fellow leaders.

When Obama went to Europe last summer as a presidential candidate, he was received like a rock star. His welcome this time is expected to be no less enthusiastic.

Since taking office, Obama has made down payments on several campaign promises that had endeared him to Europe, such as addressing global warming, ending the Iraq war, and closing the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Each had stoked acrimony toward former President George W. Bush.

Obama also pledged to listen and consult rather than lecture and dictate. The implication was that countries and their leaders would be more willing to help if asked differently. "It is important for us to understand that the way we are perceived in the world is going to make a difference, in terms of our capacity to get cooperation," Obama said in a presidential debate.

That sort of talk will meet reality this week.

"This is a real test of his leadership," said Reginald Dale, a Europe scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Nile Gardiner, once a foreign policy researcher for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and an analyst on Europe at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the divide between the United States and Europe on stimulus spending, for instance, threatens to be "as big as the trans-Atlantic divide over the Iraq war." He criticized the administration for poorly handling both trip preparations and its relations with traditional allies.

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