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President Obama's vision of international diplomacy is about to get the scrutiny of the world, as his promise of a new day is slamming into conflicts of old.
Obama on Wednesday gives his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, a forum like none other for a leader wishing to wash away any lasting images of U.S. unilateralism.
The president is expected to center on halting the spread of nuclear weapons, combatting global warming, promoting sound economies and standing up for universal values and freedoms.
His message of global cooperation, a cornerstone of his presidential campaign and now his foreign policy, is sure to be embraced by an organization that exists on that very premise.
But Obama's words will also be closely picked apart: which challenges he names as priorities in his first time on this stage, how firmly he singles out nations deemed to be dangers and what he will demand of nations rich and poor.
Obama is expected to outline what the United States has done to ensure the health and safety of the world community. He will call upon other nations to do the same.
His speech is the centerpiece of a day in which he was also holding pivotal meetings with the new Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Immersed in a packed agenda here, Obama foreshadowed his message to world leaders in a speech Tuesday to the Clinton Global Initiative. He spoke of nations interconnected by problems, whether a flu strain or an economic collapse or a drug trade that crosses borders.
"Just as no nation can wall itself off from the world, no one nation - no matter how large, no matter how powerful - can meet these challenges alone," Obama said.
While that point is hardly new, it is sharper because of the political context. Obama follows former President George W. Bush, who at times questioned the U.N.'s toughness and credibility, particularly in containing Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The U.S.-U.N. relationship wilted.
Obama's team is intent on drawing the contrast.
"The United States has dramatically changed the tone, the substance and the practice of our diplomacy at the United Nations," said Susan Rice, Obama's ambassador to the U.N.
But multilateralism has its limits, particularly as national interests collide.
Obama needs the sway of Russia and China in getting tougher U.N. action against Iran over its potential nuclear weapons program, and neither country is showing interest.
While other world leaders could push for Mideast peace, it was Obama who personally intervened in pulling together the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday. He showed some impatience as both sides have been stalled over familiar issues.
The good-will feeling of Obama's fresh government is apparent at the United Nations.
But eight months into his presidency, the problems he inherited are now his own, upping expectations for results. His White House is being pressed to right the war in Afghanistan. And his efforts toward diplomacy with adversaries, chiefly Iran and North Korea, are not meant to be open-ended.
Stewart Patrick, an expert on global governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Obama truly believes in multilaterlism - and has more to lose if it fails.
"His job is persuade a rapt global audience that recent improvement in U.S.-U.N. relations cannot be taken for granted, and that multilateralism must deliver results," Patrick wrote in a preview of Obama's appearance titled "The burden of the anti-Bush."
Obama's day starts with his meeting with Hatoyama, who has said he wants to shift Japan's diplomatic stance from one that is less centered on Washington's lead.
Later Wednesday, Obama was meeting with Medvedev. That session comes just days after Obama's decision to abruptly scrap a Bush-era missile defense plan that Russia deeply opposed, swapping it for a proposal the U.S. says better targets any launch by Iran.
Russian leaders rejoiced over Obama's move, but he dismissed any role Russia may have played and called it just a bonus if that country is now less "paranoid" about the U.S.
This program aired on September 23, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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