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updated 10/18/2007 12:11:54 AM ET 2007-10-18T04:11:54
NEWS ANALYSIS

The Democratic Congress, a thorn in President Bush’s side from the get-go on Iraq, now is contributing to diplomatic headaches for the White House in other parts of the world.

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A Capitol Hill ceremony on Wednesday was to confer the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal on the Dalai Lama . The reaction from China, which reviles the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists as a separatist, was swift and angry.

Beijing pulled out of an international strategy session on Iran — a subtle reminder to the Bush administration that China’s vote will be the key to winning the new United Nations sanctions on Tehran sought by the United States.

Turkey, meanwhile, is considering retaliation for a House resolution labeling as genocide the World War I-era killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey denies the deaths were a systematic campaign to eliminate Armenians and considers a committee’s passage of the resolution last week an affront.

Both actions amount to a sharp poke in the eye to countries whose cooperation is sorely needed by the United States on big issues including the Iraq war and the fights to contain Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. They lessen Bush’s ability to wheel and deal abroad, where leaders and the people make little or no distinction between U.S. policy that originates in Congress or at the White House.

And these are only the latest examples of Congress, in Democratic hands since January, doing what it pleases on foreign policy with little ability for the White House to change the outcome.

Pelosi's visit to Syria
In April, for instance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a high-profile visit to Syria, a diplomatic overture that was at odds with White House policy and sharply criticized by Bush.

The House also this summer passed a resolution that urged Japan to more clearly and formally apologize for forcing thousands of Asian women into sex slavery during World War II, increasing tensions with Tokyo and contributing to a rise in anti-American sentiment in Japan.

And lawmakers are blocking approval of a pending free-trade deal with South Korea because of barriers erected by Seoul to keep out U.S. autos and beef.

“It entirely weakens the administration’s leverage in these countries,” said Mike Green, who worked on Bush’s National Security Council and is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “It looks like a gratuitous political attack on an ally.”

Congress honors Dalai Lama, angers China
The accolades for the Dalai Lama in Washington this week have provoked an unusually blunt response from Beijing, which particularly resents Bush’s role. To be sure, Congress had a Republican majority last year when it approved adding the Dalai Lama to the list of those given its highest civilian honor. Yet, it wasn’t until Democrats took over that the decision was made to stage a public presentation ceremony.

But unlike the vote that angered Turkey, Bush supports the move to honor the Tibetan leader and delivered brief remarks at the festivities in the Capitol Rotunda.

He had little choice; he’s only missed other Congressional Gold Medal ceremonies because of travel. Skipping one for the Dalai Lama could have produced worse consequences than following precedent.

But Bush also chose to host the spiritual leader for a private meeting on Tuesday in the White House residence — again following precedent, but one that mightily displeased China. In one small nod to Beijing’s concerns, the White House decided against following the previous practice of publicly releasing a photo of Bush and the Dalai Lama together.

Bush argued during a Wednesday news conference that “I don’t think it’s going to damage — severely damage” the Washington-Beijing relationship. The issue of religious freedom in China, and particularly Tibet, has long been on the U.S.-China agenda, and Bush informed Chinese President Hu Jintao in September that he would participate in Wednesday’s ceremony, at the same time that he promised to attend the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Lawmakers damage relations with ally
Turkey, meanwhile, is a full-on ally, a NATO member and a key Muslim partner for Washington even more critical now because of the many supply lines to troops in Iraq that go through and over the country. The United States also is working to keep Turkey from launching an offensive against Kurdish rebels across the border in northern Iraq, fearing it would destabilize one of Iraq’s most stable areas. Turkey’s Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved such a military action .

“Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that’s providing vital support for our military every day,” Bush told reporters Wednesday.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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