- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Many European officials made no secret of their hope that Barack Obama would win the U.S. presidency.

They got their wish, but now it’s their turn to provide more than moral support on a long list of issues that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin to roll out Tuesday when she meets her first foreign visitors since taking office.

“I expect these to be very, very substantive meetings,” State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood told reporters Monday about the scheduled sessions with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Mr. Wood declined to give details, but administration officials said privately that the U.S. list includes Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, Guantanamo Bay detainees, Russia, Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

“We haven’t received any specific requests yet, but we are prepared to work with the new administration,” said a senior European diplomat, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “There is a clear awareness that America is back, and that it’s not looking at the world through any ideology.”

The official referred to the Bush administration’s foreign policy, which was widely viewed in Europe as unilateral, especially during its first term.

U.S. officials said that more troops and money for Afghanistan are likely to top Washington’s list of requests. Some European countries have resisted U.S. calls for more troops for years, and the Obama administration may ask them to provide training to Afghans instead of combat forces.

When Mr. Obama visited Berlin last summer and gave a speech that got a largely euphoric response, his mention of Afghanistan was greeted with silence.

“There is some thinking that we shouldn’t ask them for what they can’t do,” one U.S. official said.

The Obama administration also is expected to ask for Europe’s help on issues related to Guantanamo’s closing, which Mr. Obama has promised to accomplish within a year. Most European citizens in the prison have been returned to their countries, but some remain at the detention facility. In addition, the administration could ask its allies to take some third-country nationals. About 250 inmates are left at the facility.

Because of limited U.S. leverage with Sudan and Zimbabwe, the administration also is expected to ask Europe to toughen its stance on the Sudanese government’s actions in Darfur and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s grip on power.

At the same time, European officials said, there are issues on which they will need Washington’s help. The top two are Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We expect Secretary Clinton to share thoughts on George Mitchell’s trip to the Middle East” during her meeting with Mr. Miliband, one British official said. Mr. Mitchell, the administration’s special envoy, was in the region last week but canceled a stop in Britain because of a mammoth snowstorm.

“On Iran, we expect a general big-picture discussion,” the official said. A separate meeting on Iran’s nuclear program is scheduled for Wednesday in Germany at a lower level. Although European negotiators got Iran to suspend uranium enrichment from 2004 through 2005, subsequent efforts have failed to slow the Iranian nuclear program, which the West fears is meant to produce the wherewithal for weapons.

Mrs. Clinton is expected to visit Europe in early March to attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that will prepare the alliance’s 60th anniversary summit in April. Her first trip is likely to take her to Asia next week.

As Mrs. Clinton was preparing for Tuesday’s meetings, the first concrete evidence of friction between the new administration and its allies emerged over the impact of the Obama economic stimulus plan.

EU officials warned that likely congressional requirements that only U.S.-made steel and manufactured goods be used in public works projects funded by a new economic stimulus bill would harm global U.S. leadership.

“President Obama has a major opportunity to give leadership to the world … that few American presidents have had for generations,” John Bruton, the European Union’s ambassador to Washington, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“If the first major piece of legislation that he signs is one that is seen as damaging the economic interests of other countries in a way that is unnecessary and wasteful, then his capacity to give the sort of leadership the world needs at this time is considerably and unnecessarily reduced,” he said.

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