State of the Union: Foreign policy - U.S. still a leader?
January 27th, 2014
11:23 AM ET
8 years ago

State of the Union: Foreign policy - U.S. still a leader?

(CNN) - While a sluggish economic recovery keeps the national focus on domestic issues, the Obama administration enters its sixth year with an evolving foreign policy dealing with longstanding challenges in the Middle East and new priorities in Asia.

After ending the Iraq war and winding down combat operations in Afghanistan this year, President Barack Obama seeks to shift the perception of U.S. power from self-interested unilateralism to a more multilateral, cooperative approach.

CNN's live, comprehensive coverage of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address starts at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday. Go to for complete coverage or take it with you on your iPhone, iPad or Android.

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That has raised concerns at home and abroad of an American abdication of its leadership role in world affairs. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry sought to assure friends and foes that wasn't the case.

"I must say I am perplexed by claims that I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world - this myth that we are pulling back or giving up or standing down," Kerry told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday. "In fact, I want to make it clear today that nothing could be further from the truth."

Since succeeding Hillary Clinton as the top U.S. diplomat last year, the longtime Democratic senator has overseen a six-month agreement with Iran to freeze its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, a somewhat circuitous diplomatic route to Syria's government handing over its known chemical weapons stockpiles, and a fresh push for final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

During more than 10 visits to the Middle East in the past year, Kerry shuttled between countless meetings with Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors in the hopes of at least securing a framework this spring for a final agreement down the road.

However, continued Israeli settlement construction and a divided Palestinian movement mean long-held cynicism still trumps any widespread feelings of optimism for a lasting peace agreement.

Meanwhile, critics contend the Obama administration failed to intervene forcefully enough in Syria's civil war, a conflict that has claimed more than 130,000 lives and threatens to destabilize the region due to refugees to neighboring states and the involvement of Iran, Hezbollah and other outside players.

While trying to get humanitarian aid to war-ravaged areas, the United States also backs U.N.-brokered peace talks between the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and a fractured opposition that got off to a labored start last weekend in Switzerland.

"Governing is about choosing," wrote Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center in a recent online column for CNN. "And the president clearly made a choice that preserving the possibility of a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue was much more important than involving the United States in a war with Tehran over Syria that Washington could never win."

While confronting Iran over its backing of al-Assad, the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners also seek a comprehensive pact to prevent Tehran from being able to develop nuclear weapons.

A recent six-month deal that halted or limited Iran's uranium enrichment and increased international inspections in return for easing some sanctions set up talks on a permanent agreement.

The United States and Israel want guarantees that Iran would lack the technology to build a nuclear weapon, while Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful power generation, not armaments.

On Capitol Hill, pro-Israel legislators are pushing for additional sanctions on Iran that the administration warns would scuttle the negotiations.

Farther East, the administration has increased its focus on the Asia-Pacific region by enhancing its military footprint amid long-simmering tensions between China and Japan, uncertainty over the intentions of North Korea's Kim Jong Un and an unfinished free trade agreement that would cover most of the countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Filed under: John Kerry • State of the Union
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