Stay on Bush path or chart a new course?
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 8, 2008; Page A04
President-elect Barack Obama stepped carefully yesterday when he was asked about the unusual letter of congratulations that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent him — the first time an Iranian leader has congratulated the victor of a U.S. presidential election since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“I will be reviewing the letter from President Ahmadinejad, and we will respond appropriately,” he said, leaving open the question about whether he will reply. President Bush chose not to respond to a rambling 18-page letter he received from Ahmadinejad in 2006, but during the campaign Obama indicated he would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders.
“Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable,” Obama said yesterday. “And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.”
Diplomatic issues rarely begin or end cleanly with a change of administrations, but Bush will be leaving his successor an extensive list of foreign policy processes. The new administration will have to quickly evaluate them and decide whether to continue along Bush’s path, make minor modifications or forge ahead in a different direction. Obama will inherit at least three foreign policy structures, built largely by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, aimed at thwarting Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, eliminating North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
During the campaign, Obama issued a series of foreign policy pronouncements that often appeared designed not to box himself in. One prominent exception was a pledge to remove most U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration. But in many cases, Obama appears to have left himself wiggle room on many issues that will confront him. During the campaign, in fact, internal briefing materials purposely focused on defining the challenges facing the next president, but did not detail possible policy options, advisers said.