x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

G20 financial summit overshadowed by Obama's absence

The Washington gathering of global leaders reflects the way the financial crisis has reshaped the international economic order in what is seen as the initial step towards creating a 'new financial architecture'. Hillary Clinton, tipped to become Obama's secretary of state, receives a strong endorsement from former US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. A security agreement allowing American troops to remain in Iraq until 2011 receives backing from Iraq's prime minister, his cabinet, and leading cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

"World leaders agreed Saturday to put tighter controls on financial markets and work together to halt the economic crisis now cascading across the globe, but their summit was overshadowed by the knowledge that any long-term plan depended on someone who did not even attend: President-elect Barack Obama," the Los Angeles Times reported. "Gathering in Washington for the hastily arranged summit of the world's developed and developing countries, the leaders agreed to spur economic growth through increased government spending and other 'stimulus'; expand the mission and resources of international organisations, including the International Monetary Fund; and create a 'college' of international regulators to serve as an early warning system for global financial crises. " 'We must lay the foundation for reform to help to ensure that a global crisis, such as this one, does not happen again,' the leaders said in a joint statement. "Although the so-called G20 summit took only the first small steps toward building a 'new financial architecture' to protect the world from the kind of turmoil now wrenching markets from Hong Kong to London, President Bush defended the gathering as a good start." The New York Times said: "When President Bush welcomed leaders from around the world to the White House on Friday night, for what may well be one of the last formal dinners of his administration, the topic was the fragile world economy and the lush menu, belying the financial crisis, featured thyme-roasted rack of lamb. But the real story was in the seating chart. "There, in the State Dining Room beneath a massive portrait of Abraham Lincoln, to Mr Bush's right was President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who has complained loudly that developing nations like his were being 'infected with problems' not of their making. To Mr Bush's left sat a leader with a fat checkbook and the power that comes with it, President Hu Jintao of China. "It was a startling illustration of the way the financial crisis, which originated on Wall Street and has spread around the globe, has remade the international economic world order. By insisting that developing nations be included in the summit meeting, President Bush gave fresh clout to their leaders, each of whom arrived in Washington with his or her own agenda." In an editorial, The Financial Times noted: "Nothing is harder than to determine the historic significance of events when they are happening. Yet the meeting of the heads of governments of the Group of 20 in Washington at the weekend looks as historic as the crisis it responds to. It might even prove the one bright light in the gathering darkness. "While the G20 contains countries of small significance, it does include all important advanced and emerging countries. The fact that this group could meet and commit itself to a substantial agenda and another meeting in April 2009 shows belated recognition of the shift in the balance of economic power. "As important is the consensus on the roots of the crisis and what needs to be done. On the former, the communique recognises not just the failures of the financial system itself, but also the underlying mistakes in macroeconomic policies. On the latter, it stresses two imperatives: strong and co-operative action to stimulate the world economy and maintenance of the open economy on which all depend. "If we have learnt anything from the catastrophe of the 1930s it is the importance of avoiding beggar-thy-neighbour policies, particularly protectionism. Fortunately, at the rhetorical level, the leaders seem to understand that they must hang together or hang separately." Clive Crook wrote: "For most Americans, and doubtless for many summit participants as well, the meeting did not matter for the simple reason that the president-elect was not there. Barack Obama sent representatives, choosing not to attend himself. For Americans, that made it a non-event. Had the summit been held at the end of January, with the new president in office, it would have been seen as a world-historic moment. Timing is everything. "Expectations will have a second chance to get out of hand in April. Another meeting has been called for then. The new president will be in charge and by that time a lot of the preparatory work on financial regulation set in train last week will have been completed. Something concrete could happen - but between now and then the limits to what this kind of international co-operation can achieve will not be removed. "The president-elect's absence disguised the most important of these limits. Even a president with four or eight years still to serve is circumscribed in the commitments he can make to such a venture - far more so than Gordon Brown, say, or Nicolas Sarkozy. "Think what a struggle it was for the administration to get its ever-evolving troubled asset relief programme first enacted. Look at the current US debate over a second fiscal stimulus. Congress writes the laws; Congress passes the appropriations. The president can ask and entreat - and at least to begin with Mr Obama can expect to have great sway with Democrats on Capitol Hill - but in the end these are not his decisions. Having the right man turn up at the next summit will make less difference than you might suppose."

Hillary Clinton tipped to become Obama's secretary of state

"When Abraham Lincoln appointed his secretary of state, he picked his greatest opponent in the battle for the presidency, who just happened to be an able and popular senator from New York. Just like president-elect Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in fact," reported Leonard Doyle in The Independent. "Mr Obama's greatest rival within his own Democratic Party for the White House travelled secretly to Chicago last week, and was all but offered a top job in his administration. She was first spied at the airport. Later, after Mr Obama's cavalcade left his anonymous steel and glass headquarters, a second convoy of Secret Service 4x4s was seen departing. As a former First Lady, Mrs Clinton never has to drive herself, but it was a giveaway for reporters camped outside the building. "The Obama camp, which almost never leaks, has made it clear that Mrs Clinton is in the running for the foreign policy slot or for some other top position in the next administration. Bringing her on board would be as clear an indication as any that Mr Obama intends to build an administration of political superstars for the challenges of the post-Bush era. One of Mr Obama's aides yesterday described him as "self-confident enough to want to send a message to the world about America and all that it can be - and Hillary Clinton as secretary of state would do that". Voice of America reported: "One of America's elder statesmen says US Senator Hillary Clinton has a great intellect and would be outstanding in his old job. "Nobel Peace Prize laureate Henry Kissinger made the remark at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in New Delhi. "Kissinger, who was Secretary of State under two Republican presidents, says it would be a courageous act for President-elect Barack Obama to appoint his former Democratic Party primary rival as the top American diplomat. " 'To appoint a very strong personality with an independent constituency into a cabinet position requires a lot of courage,' Kissinger said. "Kissinger said Senator Clinton, if she accepted, would have to be subordinate to her former rival - an event that would be a 'symbol of a new approach'." The New York Times noted that during the campaign, the issue of whether the US should engage in talks with Iran was one that divided Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton. Moreover, last spring Mrs Clinton went so far as to issue a threat that prompted Iran to lodge a formal protest at the United Nations. "Asked what she, as president, would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, Mrs Clinton replied: 'I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.' "Iranian leaders called Mrs Clinton's comments 'provocative, unwarranted and irresponsible'. Iranian experts said the choice of Mrs Clinton as a possible emissary to Iran would be hard for the regime to stomach, given that women in Iran are not allowed to run for president or to be judges.... "Mr Obama could skirt the problem of who could best represent him in initial talks with Iran by appointing a high-level presidential envoy who would report directly to him. Or he could give the portfolio to Vice President-elect Joseph R Biden Jr, who is well-steeped in foreign policy. "Or, if Mr Obama chooses Mrs Clinton, he could leave Iran for her to handle, advisers said, under the assumption that having her as his emissary could promote, without having to say a word, the very ideal of American democracy that leaders in Washington have been trying to advance. It could send a strong signal to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, only a few months ago, said he did not think either Mr Obama or Mrs Clinton had a chance of winning the election. " 'Presidency of a woman in a country that boasts its gunmanship is unlikely,' Mr Ahmadinejad said, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency in Iran. 'Do you think a black candidate would be allowed to be president in the US?' "

Security agreement allowing American troops to remain in Iraq until 2011 is approved

"Iraq's prime minister and its most influential Shiite cleric have decided to support a security agreement that would allow US troops to remain in the country until the end of 2011, sharply increasing its chances of passage in the Iraqi parliament, officials said Saturday," The Washington Post reported. "Approval of the so-called status of forces agreement would be a cause for relief among Bush administration officials, who have grown increasingly concerned that US forces would begin the new year with no legal basis to remain in Iraq. A UN mandate authorising their presence is set to expire Dec 31. "A delegation of Shiite lawmakers and government officials met Saturday with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to review the latest changes to the agreement, and the cleric 'gave the Iraqi side the green light to sign it,' according to an official in Sistani's office who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Sistani's views carry great weight among members of the Shiite parties that dominate Iraq's government." McClatchy Newspapers said: "The agreement faces an uncertain outlook in parliament. "Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has urged Iraqis to demonstrate against the pact. His delegates on Friday announced they'd form a new resistance, called the Promised Day Brigade, to fight American forces. " 'What the Iraqi government has done is a catastrophe because it's giving an authorisation that we don't know when it will end,' said Sadr spokesman Salah al Obeidi "Sunni parties, meanwhile, have indicated they'd prefer to send the agreement before voters as a referendum. "Nonetheless, the agreement won support from 27 of 28 cabinet ministers who voted today. Government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh did not say which minister opposed it. Nine ministers were absent from the vote."

pwoodward@thenational.ae