Thursday, November 5, 2009

Clinton flickers: “star power” fails & to win over Pakistanis or achieve diplomatic victories

*Personal diplomacy wins friends but no quick results
*Missteps complicate Mideast peace discussion

WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - When Hillary Clinton took the job as President Barack Obama's top diplomat, some analysts said she might be too big for the State Department.

In the public eye for decades as political wife, U.S. first lady, senator and finally presidential candidate, Clinton's career has won her admirers at home and abroad, making her one of the brightest stars in the Obama administration.

But after a turbulent tour of diplomatic trouble spots this week, it is clear that Clinton's star power alone cannot solve some of the world's intractable problems.
"The administration has a host of major problems in the region, running from Pakistan in the east to Israel in the west, yet none of these issues has become a signature issue for her," Jon Alterman, a Middle East specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an email message.

"She did what she had to do over the weekend, but it wasn't entirely clear that her heart was in it."

Clinton had two objectives on her 9-day trip to Pakistan and the Middle East: repair the fraying U.S. relationship with Islamabad, and build support to relaunch peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Neither was a slam dunk, although U.S. officials said hopefully they saw some signs of progress on both fronts after days of Clinton's hectic personal diplomacy.
Asked at a Cairo news conference to weigh the trip's achievements against its disappointments, Clinton herself showed no hint of doubt.

"Of course I think I made advancements," she said. "Every issue that we touched during the trip is complicated and difficult. If these were easy questions with simple answers, I would not have made this trip."

In Pakistan, Clinton struggled to persuade skeptical audiences that Washington, which many Pakistanis blame for their country's costly struggle against religious insurgents, was a reliable long-term partner.

"Good intentions are not enough in fixing a relationship that historically has been flawed," said Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistan expert who directs the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Clinton won praise for speaking candidly about a relationship complicated by widespread Pakistani anger over conditions attached to a massive new U.S. aid bill.
But a barrage of hostile questions from students, tribal leaders and women's groups thrown at her illustrated the depth of distrust many in the fragile, nuclear-armed state still feel toward the United States.

"If Washington is ever to enlist Pakistan as a reliable ally, it's going to have to do a much better job of explaining itself," a New York Times editorial said. "Mrs. Clinton's trip was an important start -- but only a start."


The Mideast phase of Clinton's trip produced even fewer tangible results.
Seeking to build pressure to resume stalled peace talks, Clinton infuriated Arabs by endorsing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to "restrain" Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank -- but not to freeze it as Palestinians demand.
The remainder of the trip was about damage control as Clinton tried to persuade Arab foreign ministers and the media that U.S. opposition to settlements had not really changed.

U.S. officials say Washington wants the Palestinians to follow Israel by dropping preconditions for talks and begin formal negotiations where all issues, including settlements, borders and the future of Jerusalem, can be addressed.

"Their ability to advance their position increases dramatically when they are at the table," one senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussion.

But the outrage over the U.S. shift of emphasis on settlements showed that even a politician as accomplished as Clinton can err in the maze of Middle East peace discussions.

U.S. officials said Clinton continues to work toward resumed peace talks, although they concede that it may require the biggest star, Obama himself, to seal the deal.
"The president has the biggest gun. And it can be deployed effectively at the right time," one official said. Reuters. ANALYSIS-Clinton star power flickers in diplomatic arena Thu Nov 5, 2009 11:00am EST By Andrew Quinn
(Editing by Alan Elsner and Patricia Wilson)

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