- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

PARIS | After a whirlwind trip abroad that he capped by taking his family on a private sightseeing tour here, President Obama returned to Washington believing his administration made a down payment on his core goal of helping forge peace in the Middle East.

“He feels very, very good about the last four days, and I think he feels it’s going to pay dividends in terms of our initiatives in the future,” Mr. Obama’s senior political adviser, David Axelrod, told reporters at the conclusion of the president’s final event at the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

The close of Mr. Obama’s trip abroad — which included a major address to the Muslim world in Egypt, a stop in Saudi Arabia and a tribute to World War II veterans — was punctuated by French fans who followed his family’s every move.

Aides said the new president’s second trip across the Atlantic helped him lay the foundation for more efforts to achieve Middle East peace and continued to build upon the good will his personal popularity is fostering internationally.

Aides weren’t shy about boasting of the “robust” agenda on each of Mr. Obama’s foreign trips, which Mr. Axelrod said also are “productive in the eyes of the world.”

“I think history will show it was a very important trip,” he added.

In one 24-hour span, the president and the contingent of staff, press and logistics coordinators had set their feet on three continents. During the trip, he met with key foreign leaders, reached hundreds of millions of people by speaking about the “new beginning” he seeks with the Muslim world and even managed to take first lady Michelle Obama out for a date.

The pace isn’t likely to let up any time soon — the next trip has just as lofty an agenda as he tries to further his aim of a nuclear-free world in major meetings in Moscow and then tackling the world’s largest problems at the Group of Eight meeting in Italy. He’ll also stop in Ghana.

Mr. Obama hinted Thursday that he’s likely to stop by Jakarta, Indonesia, where he lived a few years as a boy, during his first trip to eastern Asia expected in November.

The president on D-Day took a Marine One tour of the bluffs at Normandy, where soldiers stormed the beaches during the World War II assault, and he hugged veterans who detailed their memories of the day.

The Obama family then moved on to sightseeing, with visits to Notre Dame cathedral and the Centre Pompidou modern art museum. The president and first lady dined at a bistro near the Eiffel Tower late Saturday night. At every turn of the motorcade, Obama fans lined the streets to cheer and wave a U.S. president - a far cry from the protesters who used to picket President George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech was well-received internationally, with few exceptions.

He repeatedly stressed that it was only part of an ongoing conversation, and the administration has yet to lay out solid next steps beyond sending George C. Mitchell, special envoy to the Middle East, back to the region this week.

Mr. Obama told Middle East reporters after the speech that it was “premature” to lay out more plans, noting he is just meeting some of them for the first time and he wants “all the parties to listen, to take measure of what they can do, how far they’re willing to go, before I make any reactions or prejudge what direction the negotiations should go in.”

Aides said the president’s intention was to be candid and clear with his broad goals and keep pushing the mutual interests and the idea of global cooperation.

“He believes that he has further developed a baseline relationship here and is going to be in a position to plow through the very real, concrete steps we expect of all the parties, including the Palestinians and the Arab states,” said Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications for the National Security Council.

Mr. Obama told the local reporters in Cairo that he chose that city for the address because had he gone to Indonesia, it “would almost be cheating because I would have a home-court advantage,” and he wanted to travel right to the region with the greatest tension.

“What I wanted to do was simply to start a conversation, not just between me and the Muslim world, but within the Muslim world and within America and the West about how do we finally start being honest about some of these problems,” he said. “Once you diagnose a problem, it still may take a long time to actually cure the problem.”

Mr. Obama has the support of key U.S. allies.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said “never in the history” of the France-U.S. relationship have the two countries been so aligned on major issues from calling for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians to engaging Iran on nuclear nonproliferation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, said Mr. Obama’s Muslim speech “opened up the door to the Arab world again.”

When reporters asked why Mr. Obama was not spending more time with the French president, Mr. Sarkozy said their constituents don’t care about how often they are seen dining together.

“They want us to achieve results — on Iran, on North Korea, whatever it is, but where we’re in total harmony,” he said, adding that it’s “very easy” to work with Mr. Obama.

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