Obama’s trip: A mission to restore U.S. image

WASHINGTON (AP) — Determined to change the way the world views the United States, Barack Obama is onto his next foreign mission: rebuilding relations with Russia, proving to global leaders that America is serious about climate change, and outlining his vision for Africa, his father’s birthplace.

And when in Rome? Obama will go to the Vatican to see Pope Benedict XVI for their first meeting.

Obama’s weeklong trip — he leaves Sunday night for Moscow — typifies the pace of his first-year agenda.

Capitalizing on his popularity and his party’s hold on power in Washington, Obama is moving quickly and broadly on foreign policy. That often means overturning George W. Bush’s policies or mending relations that Obama contends went adrift under his Republican predecessor.

Familiar foes may shadow Obama and his plans.

Iran and North Korea are defiantly pursuing nuclear weapons programs despite international penalties. Iran has taken a hard and deadly line against postelection protesters, while North Korea fired seven ballistic missiles off its eastern coast on America’s Independence Day. The North also has raised the prospect of a long-range missile launch, possibly toward Hawaii. The U.S. has positioned more missile defenses around the state.

Obama’s trip is anchored around a yearly meeting of leaders from the world’s industrial powers, set for Italy. The Group of Eight countries — the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia — will try to make progress on climate change. Negotiations for a new international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases get under way in Denmark in December.

Before the Italy meeting, Obama has a nuclear-arms-focused summit in the Russian capital. The final leg of the trip brings the first black U.S. president to Africa, home to Obama’s late Kenyan-born father.

Obama set a tone for the Moscow meeting by saying in an Associated Press interview Thursday that he was off to a good start with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. But, Obama added, Vladimir Putin — Medvedev’s predecessor and the current prime minister — “still has a lot of sway in Russia.”

Obama has separate meetings with them.

“I think Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new,” Obama said in the interview. Putin responded Friday by poking fun at Obama’s imagery and saying the new U.S. president is wrong about him. A Putin spokesman said Obama would change his mind after meeting Putin.

“Putin knows that, given Medvedev’s position, he’s the guy who deals with foreign leaders,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a Russian expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But Putin wants to find ways of reminding everybody who’s really in charge. And I don’t doubt that he will find ways of doing that.”

The rhetoric leading up to the summit reflects the complex relationship between the countries. Putting down a friendly marker of his own before Obama shows up, Medvedev noted that conditions had worsened in recent years but now there is “only one road to follow — the road of agreement.”

Obama expects to emerge from Moscow with a framework for how the U.S. and Russia will go about reducing their stockpile of nuclear warheads. He and Medvedev stated their intentions toward that goal in April during a London meeting that had both leaders talking of a fresh start.

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