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Palestine weighs heavy over Obama's U.N. speech

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama Photo Credit: Getty Images

President Barack Obama arrived in the city Monday for what may prove to be a contentious two-day visit to the annual U.N. General Assembly, hours after he unveiled his instantly controversial plan to lower the national deficit by $3.6 trillion over the next decade.

Obama was mostly out of sight after his arrival Monday afternoon, holding low-key meetings with staff and later attending a lucrative fundraiser, but his schedule picks up Tuesday as he's scheduled to meet with leaders from Libya, Afghanistan, Turkey and Brazil.

His real test comes Thursday, when he'll try to reassert his diplomatic credentials by addressing the full Assembly. In past years he has been warmly received, but this year he faces a possible rebuff to U.S. leadership as Palestine ups it campaign to gain full statehood – which Obama has said the United States would veto – and questions about whether global economic worries have overshadowed "soft power" issues he previously espoused.

Those issues include food security, human rights and treating HIV/AIDS, raising concern among activists about Washington's commitment to international development aid.

"The mood music that came with Obama's office dramatically changed the relationship back to one of partnership," said Nancy Soderberg, a former U.S. national security official and diplomat.

Indeed, Obama has much on his plate, as Monday Republicans condemned his deficit proposal, which plans to shrink the national deficit and increase revenue, with more than half of the savings coming from higher taxes on the wealthy and big corporations.

GOP leaders were quick to dismiss it, calling it a political stunt and saying it has little chance at becoming law.

"Veto threats, a massive tax hike, phantom savings, and punting on entitlement reform is not a recipe for economic or job growth," said Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, said Obama failed to offer a "serious" recommendation to the special bipartisan congressional committee tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in savings.

"Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership," Boehner said.

(with Reuters)

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