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World matters fill Obama's schedule

Friday, September 25, 2009 | 1:47 p.m. CDT

Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies, Missouri School of Journalism: This is the week that Barack Obama is trying to establish himself as the leader of the free world. On Tuesday, he spoke to the United Nations on the need to control the climate in the world. On Wednesday, he promised that the United States would become more engaged in the international organization and would no longer try to tackle international problems alone like the administration of George W. Bush. Thursday, he chaired a meeting of the U.N. Security Council as it took up the matter of nuclear proliferation. He also held one-on-one meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao on fighting climate change, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on sanctions against Iran and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on achieving a resumption of peace negotiations in the Middle East. Then it was on to Pittsburgh for a meeting of the G-20 nations on the world’s economic crisis. How important is this year’s U.N. opening session, and how well did Obama do for himself and his country?

Betsy Pisik, U.N. correspondent, The Washington Times, New York: It has been an electrifying week at the U.N. About 112 world leaders are here, and none seem to be quite as welcome as Obama. It is clear that the General Assembly is happy to see someone else besides Bush at the podium. Many U.N. programs feel that they can work better with Obama.

Loory: Will we see any meaningful results on the substantive issues like climate change, the Middle East or nuclear nonproliferation?

Pisik: Maybe, but not this week. Climate change was an intense day. Climate change is a long and slow topic here, and at least a dozen different reports are circulating. The final ratification would have to come by December in Copenhagen.

Loory: China is a major producer of greenhouse gases. What can we expect China to do to lower emissions?

Shaowen Lin, director of Russia and East European Division, China Radio International, Beijing: President Hu Jintao is spending five days making addresses to four conferences touching upon four major issues. He promised a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emission with three pledges: develop renewable energy and nuclear energy; increase the share of nonfossil fuel consumption from nine to 15 percent; and increase the forest cover by 40 million hectares by 2020. Domestically, this is seen as a very bold endeavor for the government. A provincial government near Beijing decided to nationalize 1,000 small-scale coal mines, which are run by private funds and are a major polluter. These mines will be restructured into larger-scale mines with better technology, greatly reducing pollution. China also announced a bold economic stimulus package of 4 trillion yuan (about $580 billion) last November. Thirty percent of the funds will go to develop green technology and low-carbon energy.

Loory: Did this get across at the U.N.?

Pisik: Most of it did. The Chinese president’s appearance surprised a lot of people here; it is the first of a Chinese leader. He said some specific things that environmental people were pleased by.

Loory: It was the first visit by the Chinese leader, Obama and Muammar Qaddafi — three very different speeches. Obama is being billed as the first American president to chair a Security Council session. Is that true?

Pisik: To my knowledge, yes. A summit-level discussion of the nonproliferation treaty and arms reductions is pretty nervy by U.N. standards. Usually when high officials address the table, they stick to ideas like protecting women and children in armed conflict. It was a full house in the General Assembly for Obama’s speech. They applauded him loudly when he walked up, and his speech received simultaneous applause in several places, which does not happen here often. The speech itself was extremely detailed and touched on almost every topic. It was largely designed to put the other world leaders at rest by getting out everything everyone seems to want.

Loory: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also spoke. What did he hope to accomplish at the U.N.?

Vladimir Isachenkov, correspondent, The Associated Press, Moscow: Medvedev saw the U.N. as a convenient stage for pushing his agenda with security proposals for Europe. This got little attention from the previous U.S. administration. Obama, in his efforts to settle relations with Russia, has been more attentive but without any concrete moves yet. Medvedev indicated that Russia has been influenced by Obama’s decision to dump the previous administration’s plan for the U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe. After meeting Obama, Medvedev said the U.S. move deserves a positive response. He had been evasive on how far Russia may go in meeting the U.S. position on Iran, but there has been a significant change in the Russian position.

Loory: Let’s move to the Middle East. Obama met individually with Netanyahu and Abbas; what could be the outcome of those meetings?

Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent, Haaretz, Tel Aviv, Israel: The main message that he gave them during those meetings was: “I’m disappointed in both of you, and I’m losing my patience.” There is still a long way to go. Both Israeli and Palestinian public opinion don’t really trust Obama. They don’t think that he has the answers for this very complicated conflict, and both sides don’t understand why they should listen to what he says.

Alessandro Bruno, deputy editor, North Africa Journal, New York: One of the biggest problems for Obama in this Middle East process is that he chose the wrong war to fight. He should concentrate on peace between Syria and Israel first, which is much more achievable. There were already talks going on in Turkey during the last period of the Bush administration. There are more opportunities to isolate Syria from Hamas and from Iran. It makes the possibility of a national unity government in Palestinian territories more likely. So long as you’ve got Syria problems and the Palestinian territories problem, nothing is going to happen.

Ravid: Obama is talking about renewing negotiations on the Syrian track, but he has two main problems with that. First, Syria is not his first priority in the bigger picture of the Middle East. Another problem is that Netanyahu is not willing to talk about anything close to the Syrian preconditions for direct negotiations, so for now, this channel is blocked. Many things were said about this bilateral meeting being just a photo-op, but it seems Obama is investing a lot of his political capital in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Bush started doing this only after seven years in office. Obama said he wants a progress report by Oct. 15. There will be more involvement by Special Envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to dive into all the detail between the Israelis and Palestinians. In the previous administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shuttled here and there in the Middle East, but she didn’t really put her hands in the mud and try to get both sides to come to an agreement.

Loory: Did Netanyahu make a secret visit to Moscow recently?

Ravid: One day, we woke up, and for around 14 hours nobody knew where the prime minister was. There were many speculations. One speculation said he was in a secret bunker in southern Israel commanding an operation for attacking Iran. Actually, he went for a short visit to Russia and met Medvedev. Medvedev told CNN that nobody in Moscow understood what all the secrecy was about; it was two leaders of two friendly countries having a meeting. But this visit was very important because it was done before the U.N. General Assembly and before beginning the dialogue with Iran on Oct. 1. The main thing Netanyahu spoke with Medvedev about was the sales of S300 air missiles from Russia to Iran. Those missiles will be a serious upgrade to the Iranian air defenses and might prevent an air strike against the nuclear installations in Iran. This subject was not only raised by Netanyahu to Medvedev but also by Obama in his talks.

Loory: For someone who was a community organizer on the streets of south Chicago not so long ago, last week was a heavy dose of important discussions of matters of worldwide life and death.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Brian Jarvis, Sananda Sahoo, Melissa Ulbricht and Megan Wiegand. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.


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