Obama's First Step on World Stage

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Illinois Senator Barack Obama's trip to the Middle East and Europe is his first step upon the world's political stage. And his audience -- the international community -- will be closely watching his every move.

A High-Stakes Endeavor

"The stakes are very high for Obama," said Lee Hamilton, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a supporter of the Illinois Democrat.

Although the Illinois senator is currently leading in some of the polls, "foreign policy is one area where they have their doubts" about him, Hamilton said.

The senator's campaign has scheduled stops in Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and England. Obama previously said he planned to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan this summer. It is unknown if those visits will be on this trip.

The trip is designed to showcase Obama as a leader by having meetings with foreign leaders, public speeches and visits to historical sites.

"It's an opportunity for him to sit down with the international leaders with whom he would have to work as President of the United States, and discuss some of the issues," said David Axelrod, the campaign's senior strategist.

Even though the presumptive Democratic nominee has been critical of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, Hamilton said Obama must be careful. "Criticizing foreign policy in Washington in one thing. Criticizing it in Berlin" is another, he said.

"There will be a lot of eyes on him, and we know that," Axelrod said, when asked about the risk of politically damaging errors.

Obama will also be closely watched by Republican John McCain's campaign. They are likely to raise the Illinois senator's lack of experience in foreign and defense policies as a major campaign issue.

"This trip is about politics. It's a way for Obama to try and compete on foreign policy," said Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communications director.

McCain has made three international trips since becoming the likely Republican nominee. Trips to Canada and Colombia and Mexico were to express support for expanded trade. Five months ago, he also visited countries in the Middle East, Britain and France.

Obama and Israel

Meanwhile back in the U.S., Obama has had difficulty strengthening his support among Jewish voters. They remain cautious about his commitment to Israel.

Obama is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert. Palestinian officials have also announced the senator will visit the West Bank. McCain did not meet with Palestinians in his most recent visit to the Middle East last March.

"We welcome this meeting," Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, said recently. He added that if Obama is elected "we hope he will stay the course between Israel and the Palestinians in reaching peace and a two-state solution."

Sources: The Associated Press, ABC News

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