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VOA Panelists Tentatively Optimistic About Obama's Foreign Policy Moves

The President is taking realistic and pragmatic foreign policy decisions, but faces daunting challenges

Washington, D.C., May 5, 2009 - President Obama is taking realistic and pragmatic foreign policy decisions, but faces daunting challenges, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, panelists said today at a Voice of America (VOA) Town Hall: Obama & the World: 100 Days.

Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., said Obama's new policy on Afghanistan, which includes increasing troops and U.S. assistance, "has a good chance" of working. But Kaufman added, "You can't carry on the kind of economic development and governance that we need if, in fact, the Taliban still are alive and well in that section."

"Pakistan is the No. 1 security dilemma," said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy at the Town Hall which was broadcast live from the Newseum to VOA's worldwide audience. Guests participated by video from New York, Kabul, Los Angeles, London and Miami.

Streamed at (, the two-hour broadcast was carried live on seven television satellite paths, in English and Persian. It was also aired on VOA's English radio, including FM, AM and shortwave. Reporters from Express News TV in Pakistan and Citizen TV in Kenya participated in the program, which they are airing.

Michael Brown, dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, praised Obama for having "a long-term perspective." He said countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan have "stabilization and nation-building problems that are going to take years and years to move forward on."

Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, said Obama appeared to be "realistic and pragmatic," but not afraid to use force when necessary. He cited Obama's decision permitting U.S. Navy marksmen to free a ship captain captured by Somali pirates.

In Venezuela and Iran, Obama has taken steps to engage authoritarian leaders, a move Brown said can be a "subtle and sophisticated" strategy. But in Sudan, John Prendergast of the Enough Project said it was too soon to judge if Obama's policy would end the suffering of the people in the Darfur region. Many observers believe the Sudanese government, accused of atrocities in Darfur, will only respond to force, he said.

Anchored by VOA's Paula Wolfson, other Town Hall guests included Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center; Jonathan Alter of Newsweek; writer Kristin Downey; Joe Shirley Jr., of the Navajo Nation and Adrian Talbott of GenerationEngage. They discussed Muslim communities, foreign policy challenges, the global economy and issues of change.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 134 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.

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