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Taking a world view of Obama’s election

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2008

BEIJING

World leaders and ordinary citizens around the globe expressed amazement and admiration Wednesday at the election of America's first black president.

"His win has really changed my view of America," Beijing sales manager Lei Xiuli said of President-elect Barack Obama. "I have read a lot about discrimination against black people in America. Now I realize that it's actually not that bad."

Wu Xinbo, vice president of the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, said the election demonstrated the "greatness" of the United States.

"It shows the American people have come a long way since the days of Martin Luther King," Mr. Wu said. "In many regards, the U.S. represents more progressive ideas and China should learn from the U.S."

Official congratulations were coupled with hopes that as president, Mr. Obama will help bring the world back from the brink of financial meltdown and provide more collaborative leadership than outgoing President Bush.

Particularly in developing countries, there was a sense of awe that Americans had elected a president whose father was from Kenya.

Kenyans danced through the night and wrapped themselves in U.S. flags, and President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday on Thursday in honor of Mr. Obama.

South Africa's iconic black leader Nelson Mandela wrote in a message to Mr. Obama: "Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place."

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called Mr. Obama's election "extraordinary" and said he hoped it would bring stronger hemispheric relations and an end to the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised Mr. Obama's "extraordinary" journey that would "inspire people not only in your country but also around the world," according to Agence-France Presse.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of congratulations to Mr. Obama to hail the "historic occasion."

Even U.S. adversaries praised the Obama win as the beginning of a new direction for the world's sole superpower.

In a letter issued by his foreign ministry, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated Mr. Obama, citing his election as a "symptom" of the same political trends that have brought leftist leaders to power throughout South America.

Iran, suspected of trying to develop nuclear weapons, saw the Obama win as "an evident sign of that country's people demanding basic changes in U.S. foreign and domestic policy," said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Mr. Obama has said he would meet with Iranian leaders but also has promised tougher sanctions if Tehran does not give up its nuclear ambitions.

Among Western leaders, the competition was over flattery.

The apparent victor was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has built a cordial relationship with Mr. Bush after years of strain in U.S.-French relations over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Your stunning victory rewards a tireless commitment to serving the American people," Mr. Sarkozy wrote in a handwritten note addressed "Dear Barack" and e-mailed to reporters by the French Embassy in Washington. "It is also the crowning achievement of an exceptional campaign whose brilliance and high tone demonstrated the vitality of American democracy to the entire world, while keeping them spellbound."

Mr. Sarkozy promised that "France and Europe, which have always been bound to the United States through their ties of history, values and friendship, will thus be re-energized to work with America to preserve peace and prosperity in the world. Rest assured that you may count on France and on my personal support."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed the election as "a moment that will live in history as long as history books are written" and promised to work with Mr. Obama on the economic crisis.

"I know Barack Obama," Mr. Brown said, "and we share many values. We both have determination to show that government can act to help people fairly through these difficult times facing the global economy."

But the very fact that Mr. Obama is viewed as less unilateral than Mr. Bush could make it harder for Western governments to rebuff U.S. demands.

For example, the war in Afghanistan could provide an early test of relations between the new administration and its NATO allies.

"We will approach the situation in Afghanistan according to the conditions on the ground," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said. He was reacting to a comment by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, suggesting that Mr. Obama might ask Britain to provide more troops for the beleaguered country.

Pakistanis also have expressed concern at Mr. Obama's remarks during his campaign that he would authorize U.S forces to attack Pakistan in hot pursuit of militants.

A statement from the Pakistani Embassy in Washington said President Asif Ali Zardari had congratulated Mr. Obama and "expressed the hope that the Pakistan-U.S. relations will strengthen under the new American leadership that has received a popular mandate for change."

As Israelis heaped praise on the president-elect Wednesday, they also questioned whether Mr. Obama could be as staunch a supporter of the Jewish state as Mr. Bush.

Palestinians said they looked forward to Mr. Bush's replacement.

Mr. Obama's pledge to use direct diplomacy with Iran to block it from building nuclear weapons has stirred concern among Israeli officials who think Tehran should be isolated.

Yuval Steinitz, a Likud legislator who has pressed for a hard line against Iran, said the new president faces a stark choice: "He will have to choose in the next year whether to be Chamberlain or Churchill."

At the same time, Palestinians said they feared that the conflict will be pushed to the back burner.

"This administration is going to take its time coming to this issue," said Ghassan Khatib, a former member of the Palestinian Cabinet. "The warnings are against high expectations, and expecting quick change."

Jordan's King Abdullah II sent Mr. Obama a message saying he looked forward to cooperation with Washington to "resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in line with a two-state solution."

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had trouble disguising his relief that Mr. Obama had defeated Sen. John McCain, a Republican perceived as more supportive of unilateral U.S. military action.

"With a glad heart, I welcome this new era of partnership for change," Mr. Ban told reporters.

Mr. Ban said he would offer assistance to Mr. Obama's transition team and discuss with the president-elect areas of mutual interest "like climate change and millennium development goals, the food crisis, the financial crisis, human rights, and also many regional conflict issues on which we need strong U.S. cooperation, assistance and participation."

"I am confident, today, about future relations between the United Nations and the United States," Mr. Ban said. "I am confident that we can look forward to an era of renewed partnership and a new multilateralism."

Wendy Morigi, Mr. Obama's national security spokeswoman, said the president-elect deeply appreciates the response from people and their leaders.

"He looks forward to speaking with those leaders in the coming days and working with them to address our common challenges," Ms. Morigi said.

• Kelly Hearn in Washington, Al Webb in London, Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv and Betsy Pisik at the United Nations contributed to this report.