After G20, Obama says his global influence is intact

The Group of 20 meets to discuss a strategy for stabilizing and bolstering the global economy.
By Howard Schneider and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 12, 2010; 4:25 PM

SEOUL - President Obama asserted Friday that the punishment his party took in midterm elections has not damaged his ability to advance U.S. interests overseas, saying his Asia trip has shown that many countries still want to work with the United States.

In a news conference following the Group of 20 summit, Obama said the United States, while still the world's most powerful economy, can no longer dictate the terms of how the world does business, especially after a global economic turndown that many blame on American policies.

But he said his relationships with fellow heads of state have evolved during his two years in office - relying less on the novelty of his election and the enthusiasm it generated than on a shared view of where the global economy should be heading.

The G-20 leaders agreed Friday to establish a set of guidelines to shape their national economic policies but deferred the substance of the work amid uncertainty about how effective the effort will prove in practice.

Advocates called the agreement a concrete step toward more global cooperation, committing each country to be evaluated by a common set of standards meant to identify trouble spots in the global economy and show how each nation's policies affect the others.

It rests, however, on an untested premise - that nations are willing to act against their short-term interests for the good of other countries, in order to promote steady and persistent economic growth that will be better for the world overall.

The premise speaks to the president's faith in a multipolar planet - that China, for example, might free some of its trillions of dollars in reserves in a way that puts Americans back to work and boost global growth. But Obama himself called some of the most important elements of the agreement "a work in progress."

"We've laid out the steps we must take to realize the balanced and sustained growth that we need," Obama said. "And now and in the days ahead, these are the commitments that we're going to have to meet."

An Illinois state senator just four years before his election, Obama arrived at his first G-20 conference in London last year to enormous enthusiasm, not only from an international public and press corps eager to see the first African American president of the United States, but from world leaders frustrated by the Bush administration's disdain for international forums and alliances.

His reception at this one was far more muted. Obama said the "hoopla surrounding my election" has given way to "genuine friendships," citing strong bonds with such G-20 leaders as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan of Turkey and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Having good relations, however, "doesn't mean that there aren't going to be differences," Obama said. For example, despite days of negotiation by their staffs, Obama's and Lee's effort to strike a South Korea-U.S. trade deal foundered.

The group gathered in Seoul amid talk of a "currency war," tensions between the U.S. and China over exchange rates and monetary policy, and worry about rising protectionism. Obama cited as one challenge his interaction with Chinese President Hu Jintao, whose policy of keeping the Chinese currency high hurts U.S. exports in China's growing middle-class market.

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