By Sam Youngman - 09/21/09 03:04 AM EDT
A week of controversial domestic and international events could add tension to two already complex international summits on U.S. soil next week.
Both the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh could be overshadowed by key decisions made by President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaArmstrong Williams: Obama 'should get on his knees and pray' Obama makes move on 'smart guns' Movie trailer gives peek at Obamas' first date MORE and setbacks from Capitol Hill.
Ahmadinejad, who speaks to the UN on Wednesday after Obama does, again denied the Holocaust last week and made more threatening comments toward Israel.
The White House came under a firestorm of criticism last week after the president decided to adopt a new missile defense policy against Iran, changing plans from the Bush administration that would have placed interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. "They falsely accuse the Islamic republic of producing nuclear weapons," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday, blasting the West for thinking it needs any defense from Iran. "We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons and prohibit the production and the use of nuclear weapons."
Republicans on Capitol Hill, including the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. John McCainJohn McCainRepublicans who vow to never back Trump Russia’s nuclear strategy: It’s a trap! Clinton face-swaps Trump on Snapchat MORE (Ariz.), were furious by the announcement, saying it represented a betrayal of the U.S.'s NATO allies. Republicans were joined by a handful of centrist Democrats on the Armed Services Committee who said they want to see the intelligence behind the decision. While expressing anger about the decision itself, Polish media also decried the date of Obama's announcement: the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, however, hailed the decision; Russia had vociferously decried the defense system as a threat close to its borders. Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted in a New York Times op-ed Sunday that the decision was not made as a concession to Russia, whose assistance has been sought by the White House in bringing the nuclear program of Moscow's ally, Iran, into international compliance.
U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters at the White House on Friday she does not anticipate the missile-defense issue dominating the agenda next week, but Putin and Obama are scheduled to have a bilateral meeting in New York City and it will likely be an issue there.
On Tuesday, Obama is supposed to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both separately and as a trio on the sidelines of the General Assembly. The timing is significant as Mideast envoy George Mitchell just returned to Washington after failing to move the peace process forward, past disputes such as expansion of Israeli settlements.
Obama is also set to have a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Rice said, and Obama's decision last week to levy tariffs on Chinese-made tires at the behest of the United Steelworkers union is almost sure to come up at both the UN and the G-20.
The Chinese were furious with Obama's call, and much of the discussion leading into next week's summits have dealt with calls from several countries to reject protectionism in the current global economic crisis.
Michael FromanMichael FromanOvernight Finance: House GOP to huddle on Puerto Rico bill US, China sign deal to end export subsidies program Cattlemen confident TPP will get a vote this year MORE, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, told reporters last week that he does not expect the issue to play a major role.
"We do not expect recent trade action to have a significant impact or to play a significant role in the discussion," Froman said. "The G-20 has a broad agenda. Trade is certainly one important element. And I think we and the Chinese expect to be able to work through our issues without it spilling over into other parts of the relationship."
Another issue sure to be a factor at both summits is climate change.
On Tuesday in New York, Obama will deliver remarks at Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's summit-level meeting on climate change, which Rice said is a chance for the president to "reaffirm the U.S. commitment to addressing the challenge of climate change and discuss solutions with a truly diverse global audience at the highest levels."
"The president will underscore the importance we attach and the seriousness with which we view the challenge of climate change," Rice said. "And he will underscore that this is very much a shared challenge; that everybody has to step up if we're going to succeed in making concrete progress."
Reaffirming that commitment, however, was complicated last week by Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSatanists balk at Cruz comparison Cory Booker is Clinton secret weapon Overnight Energy: Dems block energy spending bill for second day MORE's (D-Nev.) assertion that he will push climate change legislation down the road to next year.
European leaders have long been skeptical of U.S. commitment to the issue, and Reid's announcement, coupled with global awareness of the difficulty of undertaking such an issue in an election year, will likely add to that skepticism as world leaders try to lay the groundwork for meaningful change ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.
Rice acknowledge that the process is far from smooth sailing, but she said the president's remarks will be "an effort to give political momentum and impetus."
"The secretary general of the United Nations viewed this summit as an opportunity to bring together all of the countries of the world to try to galvanize progress in advance of Copenhagen," Rice said. "But, clearly, the road is rough ahead, and I don't think anybody comes with any illusions."