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Obama’s State of the Union address says little on foreign policy

(Mainichi: January 14, 2016 – p. 8)


 By Hiroaki Wada in Washington


 U.S. President Barack Obama cited the protection of U.S. citizens from the Islamic State (IS) and other radical groups as his top foreign policy priority in his State of the Union address on Jan. 12. He omitted any mention of a response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test or China’s advances in the South China Sea and elsewhere. He clarified his priorities in the remaining year in office.


 Only about one-fourth of Obama’s final State of the Union address to the joint meeting of both houses of Congress was devoted to foreign policy. Aside from high priority topics such as counterterrorism, it appears that foreign affairs issues will have to wait for Secretary of State John Kerry’s foreign policy speech on Jan. 13.


 In addition to the DPRK’s nuclear test and China’s maritime advances, there was also no mention of the deadlocked Middle East peace talks, which is a top U.S. foreign policy concern. With regard to Iran, although emphasis was given to the achievement of a historic nuclear agreement, there was no specific discussion of Iran’s activities that have been criticized for “destabilizing the Middle East,” such as its alleged assistance to terrorists or intervention in the Syrian conflict.


 It is possible that omitting the North Korean nuclear test was intentional, since the DPRK’s motive is to draw the U.S. into negotiations through its “brinkmanship diplomacy.” It is also conceivable that not repeating the standard criticisms of Iran was in order not to dampen the mood for improvement of bilateral relations.


 Obama’s speech also did not touch on his vision for a world without nuclear weapons, which won him a Nobel Peace Prize, or the outlook of nuclear disarmament talks with Russia.


 On the other hand, he cited protection of U.S. citizens from the IS, Al Qaeda, and other international terrorist groups as his top priority. He focused on issues of strong interest to the American people and issues prone to be attacked by the Republican Party in light of the presidential election in November. He also stressed “accomplishments” in recapturing IS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria. (Abridged)

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