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Obama mired in international challenges

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland -- Laden with foreign challenges, President Barack Obama is welcoming Iran's election results, taking the temperature of China's new leader and acknowledging that nations routinely spy on each other, all the while navigating difficult terrain with allies and Russia over Syria.

For Obama, who would much rather be influencing domestic policy at this point in his second term, the issues currently defining his presidency center on his international relations and, by extension, how he deals with threats to U.S. security.

In a wide ranging PBS interview with Charlie Rose and in recent days of peripatetic travel, Obama has been in the middle of global developments that illustrate both the extent and the limits of his ability to influence outcomes beyond the U.S. borders.

From his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California a week ago to his participation in the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized economies to Wednesday's visit to Berlin, Obama has been both setting a U.S. imprint as well as reacting to the imprints of others.

The G-8 Summit unfolded in the midst of awkward revelations that the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ tapped into the communications of foreign diplomats during the 2009 Group of 20 summit in London, including those of Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev.

That report, in the British newspaper The Guardian, came on the heels of reports about the high-tech surveillance methods and record-gathering employed by the National Security Agency in the United States.

While the disclosures added a layer of controversy to the summit, U.S. officials said heads of state at a summit like the G-8 are perfectly aware that such spying goes on.

"Every country in the world, large and small, engages in intelligence gathering," Obama said in the PBS interview, which was taped Sunday before the Guardian revelations. "And that is an occasional source of tension, but it's generally practiced within bounds."

U.S. officials busy with Syria at the G-8 in Northern Ireland said they were reassured by Iran's election of the relatively moderate cleric Hasan Rowhani as president, not so much because they expect a swift change in policy but because it reflects a desire by the country's people to change course.

"The Iranian people rebuffed the hard-liners and the clerics in the election who were counseling no compromise on anything any time anywhere," Obama said on PBS.


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