The Russians want him to hold off installation of a missile defense shield in Poland. The Europeans want him to renounce the idea of “regime change” for Iran, while the Israelis want to be sure he does not give Iran a pass when it comes to nuclear weapons.
The Taliban issued a statement this week urging him to “put an end to all the policies being followed by his Opposition Party, the Republicans, and pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.”
There is a world of advice out there for President-elect Barack Obama. Within minutes of his election on Nov. 4, the calls from foreign governments began, Obama aides say, and they have not stopped.
While the first telephone exchanges between Obama and foreign leaders were limited to pledges of future cooperation and invitations to visit, those leaders and their aides have also been contacting Obama’s advisers and their surrogates with suggestions on how an Obama administration should conduct, and change, U.S. foreign policy.
There are also signs that some foreign governments are moving to alter the playing field even before Obama takes office. On Wednesday alone, North Korea said it would not allow international inspectors to take soil and nuclear waste samples from its main nuclear complex; Iran successfully tested a new long-range missile that it claimed was capable of reaching southeastern Europe; and Russia rejected a U.S. proposal meant to assuage Russian fears over the planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The foreign efforts to sway the new team are normal during any presidential transition, but are accelerated in this case, foreign policy experts said, because of the historic nature of Obama’s election and the significantly different course that world leaders expect him to pursue in U.S. foreign policy.
“We have heard a lot of important ideas from our friends and allies,” said Denis McDonough, a foreign policy adviser to Obama. “We consider them closely in an effort to be a partner that listens, as the president-elect shapes his agenda to advance U.S. interests from his first day in office.” But until Inauguration Day, McDonough said, the Obama team will be in a listen-only mode.
Even before the election, senior advisers to Obama (including Anthony Lake, the former national security adviser) had been meeting with European officials, including Pierre Vimont, the French ambassador to Washington, and Nigel Sheinwald, the British ambassador, European diplomats said. British and French officials are urging the Obama team to work on the atmospherics before sitting down to talk with Iran, out of concern that Obama’s pledge to open talks with Iran without preconditions could lead to trouble.
The Bush administration has repeatedly denied that it is seeking regime change in Iran. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials have also balked at giving Iran any direct assurance of that, and they have maintained publicly that all options remain on the table to confront Iran over its nuclear program.