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Obama trip to UN: why it's not all about Palestinian statehood

Palestinian statehood is at the top of the agenda as President Obama heads to the UN this week. But meetings on the sidelines regarding a variety of issues could be even more significant.

By Staff writer / September 19, 2011

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (l.) shakes hands with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the 66th session of the General Assembly Monday at United Nations headquarters in New York. President Obama has elected not to meet with Abbas at the UN this week.

Seth Wenig/AP

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Washington

President Obama has the tricky task this week of explaining to the world how the United States can welcome the democratic advances some Arab countries have made in the remarkable year of the “Arab Spring” – while opposing the Palestinians’ bid for international recognition of their statehood.

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Mr. Obama heads to New York Monday for 48 hours of intense diplomacy. The president’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday and the US confrontation with the Palestinians over their plan to seek full UN membership as an independent state will dominate the week.

But away from the glare of the UN stage, it may be Obama’s chocka-block schedule of bilateral meetings with a list of key world leaders Tuesday and Wednesday that has the greater impact on the course of US diplomacy for the rest of Obama’s first term.

Obama is to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the first time since announcing his plan to begin drawing down US forces and transitioning security to the Afghans. He will also meet with the head of Libya’s new interim government, Mustafa Abdul Jalil.

The president’s agenda includes a chat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but not with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has exasperated administration officials by resisting US pressure to drop the planned request for full UN recognition. And he is to sit down with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a key NATO ally who has alternately delighted (accepting anti-missile radars) and worried (assuming an increasingly get-tough stance toward Israel) the US in recent weeks.

Obama will also meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in part to indulge in some mutual back-slapping over NATO’s successful campaign in Libya. But White House officials say the president will also take up the deepening European debt crisis – an area where the Europeans have rebuffed any American counsel.

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