44 The Obama Presidency
Obama Likely to Tread Carefully With Uribe
By Michael D. Shear
President Obama meets with Colombian president Álvaro Uribe this afternoon as his administration monitors the repercussions of the military coup in Honduras and the impact on its Latin American neighbors.
Aides had said last week that the Oval Office meeting would focus on efforts to shut down the drug trade and the stalled Colombian-U.S. free trade agreemeent. But the world's attention shifted over the weekend to Honduras, where the region's first military coup in more than a decade ended with the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya during a dawn raid of the presidential palace in the capital of Tegucigalpa.
In addition, Obama seems inclined to strike a tougher tone on human rights with Colombia than did his predecessor, George W. Bush, as he tries to expand the White House's alliances with more left-leaning governments in Latin America.
Obama said during the campaign that he supported the trade agreement, but that Colombia needed to take action to end human rights violations taken against labor leaders and others before the agreement could be ratified. Conservatives in the U.S. are pushing for ratification of the agreement, while Obama's liberal allies remain skeptical.
The Honduras coup is the latest example for the new U.S. president of how world events can suddenly shift priorities. During his first European trip in April, North Korea's decision to test fire a missile abruptly put security on the Korean peninsula on the public agenda.
Iran's disputed elections have pulled Obama and the White House into a back-and-forth with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad despite Obama's initial efforts to refrain from public involvement. The situation has forced the administration to back away from its promises of engagement with the country.
Now, Obama's administration will have no choice but to deal publicly with the coup in Honduras. Among the issues the White House will confront is the pressure that is likely to build in the region for the Honduran military to reinstall Zelaya. The coup has been condemned by neighboring countries, but military leaders of the effort and congressional leaders have already installed legislative leader Roberto Micheletti as the new president.
"We have worked hard to avoid this," a senior Obama official said in a background briefing with reporters, according to the Post's William Booth and Juan Forero. "This has been brewing a long time."
White House officials will also be asked to respond to claims by Zelaya before the coup that the U.S. embassy had blocked an earlier coup plan. In a newspaper interview published before his ouster, he said: "Everything was in place for the coup, and if the U.S. Embassy had approved it, it would have happened. But they did not."
Officially, Obama said in a statement that he was "deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya."
But coup leaders in the country gave no indication Sunday that they plan to back down Sunday. The Honduran congress overwhelmingly endorsed the takeover and moved quickly to create a new government.
Posted at 7:43 AM ET on Jun 29, 2009
44 The Obama Presidency
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