Disappointment in Seoul

The Financial Times is a bit gloomy about President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s trip to the G-20 meeting in Seoul: “This, perhaps, is what the decline of economic hegemony looks like.” And it seems like well-founded gloom. Obama held meetings on Thursday with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Hu Jintao. He was trying to convince China to let its currency rise a bit but no visible progress was made. And the president was attempting to get Merkel to agree to definite limits on trade imbalances, but she also wouldn’t budge. Today was the final day of the conference, and Obama has been positive about the results, even though the agreement is clearly not what the administration was hoping for. The group vaguely vowed not to participate in “competitive devaluation” of their currencies, but there were no concrete steps beyond that.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In marathon talks, the two met multiple times over the course of seven hours. But still, no discernible progress was made. And there was no indication that the peace process might get started again anytime soon. They offered a joint statement after the face-to-face that said they had engaged in “a friendly and productive exchange of views on both sides” and “agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations.” And Clinton once again stated Washington’s attentiveness to Israeli’s security concerns. The secretary of state also met with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Gheit on Wednesday, and at the peace process was at the top of their agenda.