Friday, October 3

BRITISH AMBASSADOR SHOWS GOOD HANDLE ON OBAMA IN PRIVATE LETTER

Telegraph, UK - Sir Nigel Sheinwald, ambassador in Washington since last year, delivered his unvarnished assessment of the White House front runner in a seven-page letter to the Prime Minister, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, just before the Democratic nominee's visit to Downing Street just over two months ago.

The candid letter, marked as containing "sensitive judgements" and requesting officials to "protect the contents carefully" gives a remarkable insight into how the Foreign Office views the political phenomenon who stunned Mr Brown's inner circle by defeating their favorite, Hillary Clinton, in the Democratic primaries.

Although the picture Sir Nigel paints is a highly complimentary one - Mr Obama's speeches are "elegant" and "mesmerizing", he is "highly intelligent" and has "star quality" - he also judges that his "policies are still evolving" and that if elected he will "have less of a track record than any recent president".

The letter's contents suggest that Mr Brown could initially find it difficult to deal with a President Obama because he remains a largely unknown quantity who "resists pigeon-holing" and the leak is likely to complicate relations. . .

Sir Nigel traces the ambition of Mr Obama, 47, to reach the White House right back to his 20s or before. "He has talked at least since the 1980s about a shot at the Presidency."

He also identifies several political vulnerabilities that Sen McCain will seek to exploit in the last month of his campaign against the Illinois senator. The leaked letter will provide him with welcome ammunition.

Mr Obama "can seem to sit on the fence, assiduously balancing pros and cons", Sir Nigel wrote, and "does betray a highly educated and upper middle class mindset". Charges of elitism "are not entirely unfair" and he is "maybe aloof, insensitive" at times.

"He can talk too dispassionately for a national campaign about issues which touch people personally, e.g. his notorious San Francisco comments [in April] about small-town Pennsylvanians 'clinging' to guns and religion."

Mr Obama's Democratic primary victory over the former First Lady showed that "he is tough and competitive. This is of course the Chicago school. You don't beat Clinton without being resilient" but "his energy levels do dip and he can be uninspiring e.g. in debates". . .

Sir Nigel detects a potential clash between Downing Street and an Obama administration over Iran. "If Obama wins, we will need to consider with him the articulation between (a) his desire for 'unconditional' dialogue with Iran and (b) our and the [United Nations Security Council]'s requirement of prior suspension of enrichment before the nuclear negotiations proper can begin."

But Sir Nigel - who described the Iraq war as "the Iraq expedition" and "Bush's Iraq adventure" - briefed that Mr Obama's Iraq policy gelled with Britain's.

"Whatever the detail, our own proposed transition in south-east Iraq would be consistent with Obama's likely approach. Obama's ideas on a more expansive regional framework for Iraq would also fit well with our thinking."

He wrote approvingly of Mr Obama's "mainstream team of youthful economic advisers, with strong credentials [who] approach policy with refreshingly few prescriptions", his "progressive position on climate change" and his 'pragmatic realism" and "balanced approach to the big security issues".

Sir Nigel concludes that searching for a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is "unlikely to be a top priority for Obama" and he expresses concern about his protectionist trade policy, while noting that he has "repositioned himself somewhat towards free trade". . .

"His voting record was decidedly liberal. But the main impression is of someone who was finding his feet, and then got diverted by his presidential ambitions."

He highlights luck as a key factor in Mr Obama's rise. "He was certainly lucky in having Democratic and Republican opponents for the US Senate in 2004 who were tarnished. He was lucky that Hillary Clinton had such a bad organisation in the primary campaign, and took so long to respond to Obama's threat."

FULL LETTER

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