Telephone Diplomacy Obama Reaches Out to European and World Leaders

Barack Obama has called Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, but not the Kremlin. On Thursday he began getting in touch with world leaders to search for joint solutions to the global financial crisis.


US President-elect Barack Obama speaks on the phone in a Chicago office to world leaders.
REUTERS

US President-elect Barack Obama speaks on the phone in a Chicago office to world leaders.

It was only the second day after his election, but on Thursday, United States President-elect Barack Obama was glued to his phone speaking to leaders around the world. With a global financial crisis, there was no time to waste and Obama began dialing numbers for a handful of the most important leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he discussed the global economy.

Both Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have said they want to meet with Obama soon. Sarkozy's office confirmed on Thursday night that the two European leaders had agreed to a joint meeting with Obama after a 30-minute telephone conversation. The French president congratulated Obama on his "brilliant" victory, officials at Elysee Palace said, adding that the atmosphere of the conversation had been "extremely friendly."

At the world financial summit to be held on Nov. 15 in Washington, France wants to propose a 100-day plan for international finance reform. The plan is to be based on a paper France is to distribute in its role as the rotating president of the European Union to other EU member states on Friday in preparation for the Washington summit.

Outgoing President George W. Bush is to lead the G-20 meeting in Washington, but Obama is also expected to take part in the summit.

Obama also reached out to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with whom he discussed the financial crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as other world leaders including Mexican President Felipe Calderon, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Japanese leader Taro Aso.

"New Opportunities"

Meanwhile, in Germany, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave a comprehensive interview about Obama's election to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, saying the president-elect would offer "new opportunities" for the international community.

"I am pushing for a new trans-Atlantic agenda," he said. "Questions about joint security will continue to be a top priority. But the common battle for climate protection, energy security as well as disarmament and arms control will have a greater weight than in the past."

He also addressed widespread fears in the European media that Obama will demand more of its allies across the Atlantic. "I consider this question, which is frequently asked in Germany, to be short-sighted and over anxious. We have no reason to play down our international engagement. We really don't have to hide behind anything, and it is my impression that Obama knows that. ... I don't expect any unfulfillable demands from Obama."

Many in Germany fear that Obama will ask Berlin for more troops in Afghanistan, and that it will be difficult for the country to meet any new demands. "There are few countries in the world who's deployment in Afghanistan is as sustainable and intensive as Germany's," Steinmeier said, noting that the German parliament recently approved an increase in the number of Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan by 1,000 to 4,500 and adding that Berlin will spend €170 million ($217 million) this year on civilian reconstruction. "I discussed all of this with Barack Obama here in Berlin in July, and he recognizes Germany's efforts," he told the paper.

Speaking on the issue of Iraq, Steinmeier said it was smart the Obama had no plans for an immediate pullout. "That's good reasoning, because an immediate withdrawal would dangerously destablize the country," he said, throwing in his support for the president-elect to gradually withdraw troops as stability is established in the country.

Greatest Potential for Escalation

Steinmeier described Iran as a potentially greater problem. "The unresolved conflict with Iran over its nuclear program is certainly the conflict in the world right now with the greatest potential for escalation. That's why we must urgently seek a common solution. That can't happen without the initiative of the Americans." He described as "good" Obama's desire to hold direct talks with Tehran. "But I can only warn Tehran not misunderstand the signal he is sending. Now as before, we expect clear and confirmable evidence from Iran that it is not building nuclear weapons."

He also said he would push for direct talks between Syria and Washington, saying the country is changing its ways and that it "plays an underappreciated role in the region, even if it has often behaved destructively in the past."

Addressing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's announcement earlier this week his country would install missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave on the border to Poland in response to the US missile shield, Steinmeier said it was the "wrong signal and the wrong time. Russia should recognize the fact that the future American president is seeking new partnerships and that there is an opportunity for good American-Russian relations."

He also warned against a race between Russia and the West in stationing missiles and other installations in response to the missile shield plans, arguing that the two sides should work together to address common threats. "The danger that America and Russia will repeat the model of power politics of the last century hasn't been averted," he told the paper. "That's why the leadership in Russia should see that in Obama they will have a counterpart who is eager to avoid old feuds. And therein lies an opportunity -- especially for security and stability in Europe."

dsl - with wire material

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