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Which world hot spots will clamor for Obama's attention in second term?

Obama is unequivocal about his intent to refocus on US domestic issues during his second term. But the world is not likely to cooperate. Here are seven foreign-policy challenges already bearing down on him.

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As for the conflict's spillover effect, some experts say that signs of growing impact in NATO ally Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, or elsewhere could prompt Obama to back the imposition of limited no-fly zones over some border areas, but probably not much else.

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CHINA: How to manage ties with a wary and rising power

Don't expect Obama to declare China a "currency manipulator" on Jan. 21, as his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, pledged to do on Day 1 of his administration. But that doesn't mean there will be smooth sailing for what many foreign-policy analysts say will be the most important bilateral relationship Obama will deal with in his second term – the relationship between a rising and increasingly assertive China and the reigning superpower that under Obama has launched a "pivot" toward Asia.

The issues confronting the two wary powers are numerous and complex, ranging from unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property to human rights. They also include regional issues from North Korea to China's territorial claims, particularly vis-à-vis Japan and in the South China Sea.

It's an agenda being addressed as China adjusts to a once-a-decade leadership change, which culminated in November with the investiture of President Xi Jinping – and to the US "pivot" to Asia that China eyes with suspicion.

Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, says China heard Obama's pivot as a call to contain China and for other Asian countries to choose which power to align with. It will take a lot of effort, she writes on Carnegie's website, "to convince China that Washington's actual intent was and is to rebalance its attention from the Middle East toward East Asia."

AFGHANISTAN: How to wind down the 'forgotten war'

Afghanistan is often referred to as the "forgotten war," but with 66,000 US troops in the country, questions of how the US and NATO will complete a full drawdown of forces by the end of 2014 will remain a critical concern. Among the issues to be addressed:

• Does the president decide on a steady and sizable reduction of forces, or does he opt for a hiatus in major withdrawals to allow for offensives in the summer 2013 fighting season, as military commanders seem to prefer?

• Can the training programs for Afghan soldiers and police deliver security forces capable of assuming Afghanistan's defense and safety post-2014?

• How much effort should be put into jump-starting talks with the Taliban?

• What can be done to safeguard the gains many Afghans – in particular, women and girls – have made in areas such as education and health over the long US presence?

Also to be mulled over in 2013: the size of any residual US military presence to be left in the country – for advice, training, and as a reassuring presence – after 2014. Early proposals suggest a force of 10,000 might remain as part of a US-Afghan accord, though some experts warn that is not enough.

PAKISTAN: Irritants – and some hope – in an uneasy partnership


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