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Obama seeks diplomacy with Latin American adversaries

Foreign policy tactics draw criticism during summit in Colombia

CARTAGENA, Colombia — President Barack Obama's willingness to engage with America's adversaries comes with promise and peril, a reality hammered home by signs of progress in nuclear talks with Iran and a setback in North Korea's provocative rocket launch.

In Colombia, where Obama is attending a summit with Latin American leaders, the president has been confronted by the stubbornly stalled U.S.-Cuba relationship, despite his offer of a "new beginning" with the communist nation.

The convergence of events focused fresh attention on a foreign policy strategy that puts a premium on keeping the door open for diplomacy, even with countries the U.S. considers "bad actors."

Obama administration officials say the strategy has improved the U.S. standing in the world by showing that America is more willing to look outward, 10 years since President George W. Bush branded Iran, Iraq and North Korea as members of an "axis of evil." White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes credited U.S. engagement with Iran and North Korea with allowing the U.S. to rally international support for stronger penalties when those nations proved to be defiant.

But the president's critics say his open engagement policy is na?e and weak.

The criticism came from Obama's fellow Democrats during the 2008 election, including from campaign rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's secretary of state. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has used a similar line of attack to go after Obama's foreign policy in this year's presidential race.

Almost immediately after North Korea's failed rocket launch Thursday, Romney accused Obama of trying to appease the reclusive communist country by dangling a food aid deal "that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived."

Romney has accused Obama of engaging in a policy of appeasement with Cuba, and giving the communist-run government "gifts" when he lifted restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. Romney has said that if he were negotiating with Cuba as president, he would want to know what he was going to get in return before making any concessions.

Obama did lay out his conditions for re-engagement with Cuba when he made his call for a "new beginning" during the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.