The First Draft: Iran …and the Olympics

October 1, 2009

When President Barack Obama was running for president, he was heavily criticized by his rivals — including his current secretary of state, Hillary Clinton — for saying he would be willing to sit down with the leaders of countries like Iran.NUCLEAR-IRAN/

Well, today is the day the United States takes part for the first time as a “full participant” in talks between Iran and six world powers to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program.

Obama is not participating but he will likely be closely following results of the one-day talks in Geneva. U.S. officials have said Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns — the head of the American delegation — would not actively seek a one-on-one meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator but would not reject one if the opportunity arose.

Though he’s not going to Geneva, Obama will jet over to Europe this evening for a brief, cameo appearance in Copenhagen, where he hopes his star power and charisma can help woo┬áInternational Olympic Committee members and convince them to choose Chicago as the venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Possibly as part of an effort to avoid criticism that he is skipping work to lobby for the Olympics, Obama will put in a full day at the White House — including Oval Office meetings with Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as well as a fundraising speech for the Democratic Governors Association — before setting off for Denmark, where he will be on the ground for just about 4 hours.

No incumbent U.S. President has ever addressed an IOC session before. A star-studded OBAMA/OLYMPICSadvance team including First Lady Michelle Obama, television star Oprah Winfrey and American Olympians have spent the last couple of days trying to win over votes in the hard-fought battle for the 2016 Games.

So what will Obama’s pitch be? Is there some surprise sports-related event that he’ll take part in to convince the IOC to pick Chicago instead of the other three finalists: Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo?

Or will he spend his four hours in hyper campaign mode, speaking to as many people as possible and delivering emotional speeches on behalf of his home town?

By about 12:30 pm tomorrow (1630 GMT) we should know if his gamble paid off or if he might have just given his opponents some more fodder for criticism.

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Photo credits: Reuters/Dominic Favre/pool (Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili (2L) and delegation attend talks in Geneva); Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama uses a light saber to practice his fencing stance at a White House event)

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