Obama denies his global footprint has shrunk

2010-11-12 16:46

US President Barack Obama insisted today that he now had more clout on the world stage – not less – dismissing comments that a mid-term election rout at home had shaved his power abroad.

Obama also mused that talking to the Chinese was tough at any time – whether his personal polls were up or down, and produced a list of leaders with whom he has forged a particular connection.

The US president reflected on the challenges of leadership, and the trials of global summitry in a multimedia age when the first draft of history is written in moments, at the end of the G-20 summit in the South Korean capital Seoul.

Obama travelled more than any other US president in his first year of office and bestrode the world stage, as fellow leaders, many of them beleaguered, thirsted for a share of his star power and jostled for photo opportunities with the newcomer.

White House aides spent hours trying to beat back stories leaked by governments disappointed that the new conquering hero was spending only a night in their country, or had snubbed some part of their political establishment.

But the president went into the global economic talks here stung by his Democratic Party’s loss to the Republicans in mid-term elections, which constrained his presidency at home and sowed doubts abroad about his political longevity.

“No” was Obama’s concise response, when he was asked at a press conference if his domestic political woes made him a faded power abroad.

But then he deflected the question from himself to his country, saying people throughout Asia were keen to work and engage America on economic and security issues.

Another reporter tried again later, and had to interrupt with a follow-up to get Obama to discourse on a more personal level.

“I guess what I’m saying is, that I actually think that my relationships have grown much stronger with the people who I’ve worked with here,” Obama said, referring to fellow developed and developing country leaders.

He contrasted the “hoopla” surrounding his election with the genuine friendships he had carved out on the sidelines of summits – mentioning especially Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“He and I share a level of understanding and interest in working together that didn’t exist when I first came onto the scene,” Obama said, days after leaving India after a successful three-day visit to the rising Asian power.

Obama also cited a similar connection with two leaders with whom he has found areas of agreement but some sharp policy differences – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He said he felt the same level of comfort with his host, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak – even though the pair failed to conclude a high-stakes US-Korea free trade pact in talks yesterday.

Negotiating with Chinese President Hu Jintao, with spats simmering over trade and currency, seems less of a pleasure.

“It wasn’t any easier to talk about currency when I had just been elected and my poll numbers were at 65% than it is now,” Obama said. “It was hard then and it’s hard now.

Because this involves the interests of countries and not all of these are going to be resolved easily.”

Obama also conducted one of his semi-regular meditations on the state of the media in the internet age, saying it was sometimes tough to make his case that he was doing a good job in extraordinary times.

“There’s a spin cycle that is going on 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he told a Chinese journalist.

“And I think that in this media environment, it is in some ways more challenging to make sure that your message and your intentions are getting out in a consistent basis.”

After the G-20 summit, Obama flew to Japan today for the final leg of his four-nation, eight-day stay in Asia – and another summit – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Yokohama.

He had previously visited India, his boyhood home of Indonesia and South Korea on his trip.

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