by RAY FLEMING

WHEN Barack Obama returns to Washington towards the end of this week he will face a number of decisions that may determine the success of his Presidency.

Some voices in the United States say that he is in real trouble, especially over foreign policy, while others continue to believe that he is a leader of exceptional ability who is still struggling to deal with the consequences of the Bush era. The list of issues that he faces in the next few weeks is daunting. First and foremost, of course, is the decision on whether the Afghanistan situation can be solved by a surge of US troops or would be better approached in other ways. Next, the break-down in Israeli-Palestinian talks and Israel's provocative plans to build yet more settlements must be addressed.

The hopes for some progress with Iran over its nuclear ambitions have been dashed and the further use of sanctions may have to be considered. The success of Iraq elections in January which represent a milestone in American ambitions for that country is by no means assured. The recognition that the UN Climate Change conference in December could not be finalised as had been expected has shown the necessity for a a stronger American commitment to carbon emission controls than it has so far been able to show. Add continuing domestic concerns over the economy and the final stages of the health care reforms - and the magnitude of Barack Obama's problems become only too clear.

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