- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

After weeks of focusing largely on domestic affairs, President Obama is approaching a pair of global summits that will oblige him to begin addressing a host of foreign challenges.

Mr. Obama has left foreign policy largely to surrogates since he took office six weeks ago, apart from giving an interview to an Arabic television station, spending a day in Canada and announcing a deployment of new troops to Afghanistan and a timetable to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq.

Among the other challenges he must address: how to deal with Iran appearing to have sufficient uranium - if further processed - to build a nuclear weapon, a deepening crisis in Pakistan and the spreading economic downturn that threatens to become a global recession.

“This president simultaneously inherited the worst national security and economic portfolios in modern memory,” said Steven Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation.

Mr. Obama may begin to pivot Tuesday when he hosts British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the White House to discuss the Group of 20 summit in London scheduled in one month.

The G-20, along with the NATO summit in the Franco-German town of Strasbourg-Kehl days later, will be Mr. Obama’s first major foray into international matters.

The White House’s National Security Council (NSC) has been working feverishly, aides say, to put personnel in place and solidify positions on a range of issues. So far, the nation’s understandable obsession with jobs, bank accounts and mortgages have allowed this work to go on without much public pressure or expectation for decisions.

“The president has taken a deliberative approach to national security matters because he believes that closely consulting with our military and diplomatic leaders is wise and prudent,” said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security Council .

Some issues are coming to a head. On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Bashir on war-crimes charges related to Darfur. U.S. officials have signaled support for the warrant but have not decided whether to rejoin the ICC, which President George W. Bush rejected.

Meanwhile, the White House is carrying out reviews on strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Russia and the legal framework for prosecuting foreign terrorists.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged Monday that the array of problems that need solving, all coming at once, is daunting.

“The rate at which the pitches are coming at us don’t necessarily allow for a lot of time to dig into them for the next pitch,” he said.

Toby T. Gati, a senior adviser in the Clinton White House on Russian and Eurasian affairs, credited the Obama administration for using its first weeks to gain “some room for maneuvering to work out difficult problems.”

But, she said, “It’s not a strategy. It buys time while they work on a strategy.”

“Obama has not yet had to choose between two groups of countries who may support different outcomes,” said Mrs. Gati, who is now at the international law firm of Akin Gump Strauss LLP.”At some point, someone’s going to say, ‘So which is it? What side do you come down on?’”

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