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Obama Strikes New Tone in Foreign Policy


Experts say U.S. President Barack Obama has succeeded in improving at least the tone of U.S. foreign policy though tangible achievements are still to come. VOA reports on U.S. foreign policy in the first 100 days of the new administration.

Barack Obama's boldest foreign policy move may have come more than six weeks before his inauguration -- when he chose his former Democratic party rival Hillary Clinton as his nominee for Secretary of State, despite her campaign rhetoric. "The American people don't have to guess whether I understand the issues, or whether I would need a foreign policy instruction manual to guide me through a crisis," she said.

But when Mr. Obama's nomination was assured, the candidates put aside their differences, making their first joint campaign appearance, appropriately, in the town of Unity, New Hampshire. "She rocks," he said. "That's the point I'm trying to make."

Clinton, for her part, said she had no qualms about Mr. Obama's ability to lead. "Because I know he'll be a commander-in-chief who will never hesitate to use force when necessary but never shrink from using diplomacy whenever possible," she stated.

Clinton won swift Senate confirmation, telling her colleagues the Obama administration would take a less confrontational approach in foreign policy. "We must use what has been called smart power: the full range of tools at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, political, military, legal and cultural," she added.

Mr. Obama, in a departure from the Bush administration, named special envoys for global trouble spots: For Afghanistan and Pakistan, former Balkans negotiator Richard Holbrooke.

On the Arab Israeli conflict, former senator George Mitchell was named. "I don't under-estimate the difficulty of this assignment," Mitchell said. "The situation in the Middle east is volatile, complex and dangerous."

On North Korea and its nuclear program, the president appointed veteran diplomat Stephen Bosworth

Though welcomed in Seoul, Bosworth was denied an invitation to Pyongyang.

Weeks later....

North Korea defied the world community by testing a long-range missile and withdrew from negotiations on its nuclear program.

Mr. Obama drew Republican criticism for offering dialogue with Iran and Cuba and for a friendly handshake at the Summit of the Americas with leftists including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Republican Connie Mack told a House hearing that outreach won't change Cuba or Mr. Chavez. "We could find the same scenario where we did with the Cuban missile crisis, where you have Iran using Venezuela as an access point in our hemisphere," Mack stated.

But Daniel Hamilton of Johns Hopkins University applauded Mr. Obama's gestures as an effort to re-position the United States as a reliable global partner.

"One that reaches out to adversaries even if you disagree, you're at least able to discuss your differences, is the sort of the message of the first 100 days," Hamilton said.

Mr. Obama's efforts to improve relations with Russia and China were welcomed by analysts.

Michael O'Hanlon of Washington's Brookings Institution says it's too soon to say if a changed tone leads to diplomatic gains. "To say that things are off to a swimming start -- I want to reserve judgment and see them actually solve a problem before I start to give them big applause," O'Hanlon said.

Daniel Hamilton says he's also reluctant to issue an early grade for Mr. Obama. He says a year-and-a-half in office is a much better time to judge performance.

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