Dual setbacks for Obama on a strategic Asian tour
TOKYO — President Barack Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects Thursday, as he failed to advance a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown.
Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the trade pact. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not able to overcome entrenched resistance from Japan’s farmers in time for the president’s visit.
In Jerusalem, Israel’s announcement that it was suspending stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians, after a rapprochement between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant group Hamas, posed yet another obstacle to restarting a troubled peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry has been greatly invested.
The setbacks speak to the common challenge Obama has had in translating his ideas and ambitions into policies. He has watched outside forces unravel his best-laid plans, from resetting relations with Russia to managing the epochal political change in the Arab world.
In one sense, the latest grim news from the Middle East offers a rationale for Obama to keep his gaze fixed on the fast-growing economies of Asia. While the troubles with the peace negotiations have surprised almost no one, the trade talks with Japan still hold some hope of yielding a landmark deal, since it is in the interests of both Abe and Obama — a bet on the future rather than an effort to clear the enmities of the past.
Frailties also were on display in Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel acted swiftly to suspend talks after his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas, signed a deal seeking to reconcile his Fatah faction, which dominates the Palestine Liberation Organization and leads the West Bank government, with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.