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Obama's "First Moment as a Statesman"

With Obama in office, world peace is surely in sight.

Diplomacy reporter Helene Cooper in London covered President Obama's global debut at the Group of 20 summit meeting on the world economic crisis, and her "news analysis" made Friday's front page, where she gushed that Obama "had his first moment as a statesman" by resolving some minor bit of tension between representatives of China and France.


In his debut on the international stage, President Obama presented himself as the leader of an America that can no longer go it alone, and as abiding by the protocol of a global new deal.


It was a performance that ranged from mediating behind closed doors - Mr. Obama personally intervened in a spat between the French and Chinese leaders - to a carefully calculated news conference in which he reached deep into history, showed contrition for the failings of Wall Street, and forecast a road the world could no longer travel. Gone are the days, from Pax Britannica to Pax Americana, when Britain and the United States made the rules that others followed.


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In a premiere diplomatic tour that has already been scrutinized for every blemish, Mr. Obama has, thus far, gotten some not-so-good reviews - several European news outlets complained that he seemed aloof - and some raves. (President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called him "very helpful.")


Mr. Sarkozy was referring to Mr. Obama the mediator. For a tense hour on Thursday, Mr. Sarkozy and President Hu Jintao of China were going back and forth about tax havens. In a large conference room at the Excel Center, surrounded by 18 other world leaders, the two men sniped at each other, according to officials in the room.


Mr. Sarkozy wanted the big communiqué produced by the Group of 20 to endorse naming and shaming global tax havens, maybe even including Hong Kong and Macao, which are under China's sovereignty. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hu was having none of it. He appeared angry that Mr. Sarkozy was effectively accusing China of lax regulation, and that the French leader was asking China to endorse sanctions issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of wealthy nations that Beijing has yet to join.


According to accounts provided by White House officials and corroborated by European and other officials also in the room, Mr. Obama escorted both men, one at a time, to a corner of the room, to judge the dispute. How about replacing the word "recognize," Mr. Obama suggested, with the word "note?"


The result: "The era of banking secrecy is over," the final communiqué said. "We note that the O.E.C.D. has today published a list of countries assessed by the Global Forum against the international standard for exchange of tax information." Hong Kong and Macao did not appear on the list.


It was not a Middle East peace accord. But Mr. Obama had his first moment as a statesman.


World peace is surely just a few months away.