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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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One objective of keeping some US forces in Afghanistan after 2014 would be to signal to neighboring Pakistan that the US is not abandoning the region. The US is keen to see Pakistan relinquish its longtime strategy of harboring and even supporting the Afghan Taliban as a means of maintaining a measure of influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan worries about an Afghanistan without an American presence becoming increasingly unstable – and subject to the rising influence of archrival India.

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Other irritants – including Obama's recourse to drone strikes to target Al Qaeda and others planning or carrying out attacks on US troops and other interests from Pakistani territory – will keep Pakistan on the 2013 agenda.

But Obama will also be able to work with key positive signs in Pakistan – some remarkable political stability as the country approaches elections next year and a surge in national unity in response to the Taliban's recent high-profile attack on a young girl advocating girls' educational rights – as he deals with one of the world's most worrisome nuclear powers.

RUSSIA: Growing differences cannot be masked

Ah, for the days of the vaunted "reset" of US-Russia relations.

Some experts once predicted the warm-up in relations between the two powers would stand out as the top foreign-policy accomplishment of Obama's first term.

No more. Vladimir Putin, reelected as president in March, has turned a cold shoulder to the West and its focus on democratic principles and human rights as he executes an Asia pivot of his own.

Mr. Putin responded to Obama's reelection by inviting him to visit Russia, but the gesture can't mask the differences that only seem to be growing between the two on issues from Syria and the fate of Assad to missile defense in Europe and arms control.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT: Yet another attempt at peace?

Obama launched a high-profile peace effort in the first week of his first term – and it got nowhere. Four years later, the conditions on the ground point to an even less-favorable environment for attempting a major diplomatic push to reach a two-state solution – something some regional experts say may no longer be possible anyway.

So it may come as a surprise that other experts say Obama will embark on another peace initiative as early as next year.

"Obama's choice is between the difficult and the impossible," says Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel and author of the recently published "Pathways to Peace."

The "difficult" is to launch a peace effort early on, when Obama will have other domestic and international priorities, Mr. Kurtzer says. But the "impossible" would be to wait until later, he adds, when trends – from settlement construction in the West Bank to political changes in the region – will have shut the door on a diplomatic solution.

For those who say Obama has no choice but to try again at Mideast peace, the next question is: Does he name another Mideast envoy? Some experts say that if Obama is serious, he'll forget the envoy and enlist his secretary of State to help him lean on the parties.

Others, eyeing the reality of Obama's agenda, foreign and domestic, say he should name an envoy. They already have a name in mind: former President Bill ­Clinton.


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