Obama’s foreign policy moves: Breakthroughs on Iran, Cuba, now hard sell
to skeptics at home
Article by: JIM KUHNHENN , Associated Press Updated: April 13, 2015 –
WASHINGTON — After breakthroughs abroad, President Barack Obama is
finding stern challenges at home to his foreign policy, facing hard
sells to skeptics over U.S. shifts, first on Iran and now Cuba.
Obama returned to Washington early Sunday still basking in the attention
from his historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro at a summit
of Western Hemisphere leaders. But Obama is certain to find a less
appreciative crowd in Congress than the one he left behind at the Summit
of the Americas in Panama.
To complete a nuclear agreement with Iran, Obama must deal with
resistance in Congress and the unpredictability of the Iranian
leadership, which has a distinctly different interpretation of what the
sides have settled on so far.
Cuba and Iran offer Obama, whose term ends in early 2017, the potential
for legacy-crowning achievements. Iran may prove a greater challenge
than Cuba, but together they are subjecting Obama’s foreign policy to
the kind of scrutiny that most international issues, short of war,
Obama made clear in a closing news conference late Saturday in Panama
City that he believes he can handle the twin trials. The American public
is on his side on Cuba, the president said, and he had tough words for
Republicans defying him on Iran.
Both have their roots in decades of grievances. Both have had
constituencies in the U.S. deeply mistrustful of the governments with
which Obama is dealing. Pro-Israel Americans cannot fathom a deal with
an Iran that will not recognize Israel’s existence. And for long,
Cuban-Americans who escaped Fidel Castro’s revolution could not imagine
a U.S. government not committed to ousting the Havana government.
On the flip side, Cuba is hardly the threat Iran could be. Public
opinion no longer demonizes Cuba. In the end, Obama’s efforts to
re-establish normal relations looks like the lesser burden.
When it comes to Cuba, “the American people don’t need to be persuaded,”
Still, there are reminders that the barriers have not all fallen.
Castro, in a lengthy speech at the summit, recited a litany of
objections to past U.S. policies. And the room where Obama and Castro
met displayed no flags, thus declaring the absence of diplomatic relations.
Obama’s next step is removing Cuba from the United States’ list of state
sponsors of terrorism. Such a decision, recommended by the State
Department, could come in days. Obama would have to notify Congress.
Lawmakers do not have to ratify the decision, but they have 45 days to
Such a vote, if attempted, probably would not succeed. But the issue is
percolating just as 2016 presidential candidates are jumping into the race.
Florida, once the center of anti-Castro activism, is a pivotal
presidential state, and some Republican candidates will try for a
political upper hand by accusing Obama of weakening America’s place in
“President Obama’s foreign policy has been one appeasement toward
autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries after another,” Sen.
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican toying with a presidential
run, said amid news Obama was to sit down with Castro.
The White House hardly appears worried about the politics of Cuban
diplomacy, given that support for ending more than 50 years of U.S.
isolation of the island nation crosses party and geographic lines.
“”Perhaps the most important difference is that while Iran is
inherently a security issue, today Cuba is the opposite,” said Carl
Meacham, a former senior Republican aide on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee who now is a director at the Center for Security and
International Studies. “If he removes Cuba for the list of state
sponsors of terror, President Obama will demonstrate that the United
States can no longer reasonably look at Cuba as a threat to our own
Obama perceives the Iran deal as far more fragile.
Iran and the world powers negotiating the deal have until the end of
June to reach a final deal. Congress is angling to assert authority over
the final agreement, and even some of Obama’s Democratic allies support
But Obama reserves most of his frustrations for Republicans and he
singled out Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his 2008 presidential rival,
for specific scorn during Saturday’s new conference.
McCain last week declared a major setback in the nuclear talks after
Iran’s supreme leader demanded that sanctions against Tehran had to be
lifted immediately after a deal went into place.
Obama cast McCain’s criticism as an assault on the credibility of
Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Now we have a senator suggesting that our secretary of state is
purposefully misinterpreting the deal and giving the supreme leader of
Iran the benefit of the doubt in the interpretations,” Obama said.
“That’s not how we’re supposed to run foreign policy, regardless of who
is president or secretary of state.”
Source: Obama’s foreign policy moves: Breakthroughs on Iran, Cuba, now
hard sell to skeptics at home | Star Tribune –