GOP House Takeover Has Some In Europe Worried

Now that the dust has settled after the U.S. midterm elections, European nations are wondering what it all means for them. Although last week's Republican success is not expected to provoke a sudden shift in President Obama's foreign policy, analysts say there are concerns that congressional opposition will affect specific issues — among them Afghanistan, the Middle East and the START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.

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Here in the U.S., the topic of foreign policy did not arise very often on the campaign trail. And as the dust settles from last week's midterm elections, analysts in Europe are trying to figure out what the outcome means for their countries.

NPR's Philip Reeves has that story from London.

PHILIP REEVES: President Barack Obama's taken quite a battering at home. Yet, outside the United States he still has plenty of fans. Quentin Peel, international affairs editor of the Financial Times, says a lot of them are in Europe.

Mr. QUENTIN PEEL (International Affairs Editor, Financial Times): If you look at the opinion polls, he's still enormously popular in Europe. I mean, I think that he was at 82 percent popularity rating in the trans-Atlantic trans-poll, dropped to 79 percent in the last one.

REEVES: Although Europeans still, broadly speaking, love President Obama, Peel says that Obama does not appear to love them.

Mr. PEEL: There is a feeling that he does slightly take Europe for granted and actually is fundamentally perhaps not terribly interested in Europe.

REEVES: All the same, as Mr. Obama tours Asia, Europe's policymakers are puzzling over some crucial questions. Will the president be forced to adjust his foreign policy because of the Republicans' huge election gains? And if so, by how much?

Analysts differ on this. Some think President Obama's hands may end up being tied in a number of ways - on introducing climate change legislation, for example; on keeping his target of beginning to reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan next July. There's more.

Bruno Tertrais is a senior fellow with the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

Dr. BRUNO TERTRAIS (Senior Fellow, Foundation for Strategic Research, Paris): It's possible that there will be more pressure for a tougher line, vis-a-vis Iran, for an increased support for Israel, and even less prospects for ratifying disarmament treaties.

REEVES: Disarmament is one area where political analysts expect the president to encounter obstacles. This includes the U.S.'s new START treaty with Russia that would trim nuclear arsenals on both sides.

The Obama administration wants the U.S. Senate to ratify this during the so-called lame duck session this year. It's far from certain the Republicans will play ball. Quentin Peel says the treaty is an important part of Mr. Obama's overall effort to reset relations with Moscow and is good for everyone.

Mr. PEEL: I mean, the irony is that both sides desperately want to get rid of an awful lot of redundant missiles that cost money to keep hanging around that are of absolutely no purpose in this day and age. If they become an issue in the Congress in a way of trying to embarrass the president by blocking it, then, dear old American domestic policy is undermining perfectly sensible foreign policy.

REEVES: Some Republicans oppose disarmament measures because they believe these will restrict the U.S.'s anti-missile deployments. Bruno Tertrais believes the Senate will ratify the new START treaty, but he expects that to be Obama's last move on the disarmament front, at least for this term.

Dr. TERTRAIS: I think that will be the end of this push for disarmament - for nuclear disarmament by the U.S. administration.

REEVES: Some analysts here expect President Obama now to concentrate in particular on Iran. Among them, Anthony Dworkin, a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. ANTHONY DWORKIN (Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations): He will be trying hard to achieve something there, not only because he wants to have a legacy, but also because he sees this as a big and important priority for America. But there's no guarantee that he will be able to get very far.

REEVES: This is about as hard as it gets. The Iranians are thought to be several years from developing a nuclear weapon. If they do so on Mr. Obama's watch, he'll have a major crisis on his hands. If sanctions work and Tehran agrees to talk about some sort of deal, Obama can expect the Republicans to be breathing down his neck every step of the way.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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