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So who will Obama meet first?

  • Story Highlights
  • Barack Obama is keen to repair damage done to ties with Europe
  • During a tour of Europe during the summer he enjoyed high-profile speech in Berlin
  • UK PM's chances of first meeting may be harmed by backing for Iraq invasion
  • Obama has already met with leader of Mexico as part of tradition dating from 1980
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By Nick Hunt
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Everyone wants to be the friend of newly inaugurated U.S. President Barack Obama -- none more so than leaders in Europe.

The race to meet Barack Obama will be keenest among the leaders of the major European nations.

The race to meet Barack Obama will be keenest among the leaders of the major European nations.

Many claim he has already had his first meeting with a foreign head of state.

Obama met Mexican President Felipe Calderon last week, afterwards telling media that there was an "extraordinary relationship."

"My message today is that my administration is going to be ready on Day One to build a stronger relationship with Mexico," President Obama added.

But the meeting had less to do with Obama's intentions -- although he is keen for a strong relationship with Mexico -- and more to do with tradition.

Every incoming U.S. president since Ronald Reagan in 1980 has made a point of holding talks with his counterpart across the border before taking his place in the Oval Office.

The office of the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also stated earlier this month that Obama will meet his North American counterpart for his first presidential foreign trip -- although no date has been set.

But who will Obama meet first beyond those immediate neighbors, especially in Europe?

Any move is likely to hinge on Obama's keenness to repair some of the damage caused by U.S. foreign policy during George W. Bush's administration, and in particular the split with continental Europe over the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

That military action was backed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but such support could count against his successor Gordon Brown in his relationship with Obama.

Brown's spokesman played down the relevance of being the first leader to meet Obama in comments reported by the British Press Association Tuesday.

"We wouldn't attach too much importance to who has what meetings when," said the spokesman.

"The important thing is whether or not you share the same values and have similar approaches and are able to work together on challenges."

Britain's traditional rivals, Germany and France, both opposed the invasion.

Nicolas Sarkozy gave Obama a warm welcome at the Elysee Palace, the official Parisian residence of the French presidents, when he visited in July -- and afforded him a much higher profile press conference than that given to Republican rival John McCain (in contrast Brown gave both leaders equal treatment).

Then French President Jacques Chirac was also the first European leader to visit President George W. Bush, the previous holder of the Oval Office, in 2005.

And then there is Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany, which Obama visited in July, drawing a crowd of some 200,000 people to a speech at the Victory Column in a central Berlin park.

Commentators said the event evoked the historic "I am a Berliner" delivery in 1963 by then U.S. President John F Kennedy, who Obama has been compared to.

Of course Obama could look beyond Europe and perhaps make his first meeting with a leader from the Middle East, Asia -- or even Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya, the new U.S. president's ancestral homeland. After all, Obama's presidency has long heralded its fresh approach to the rest of the world.

But perhaps his priorities have been hinted at in comments made by Hillary Clinton, the designated U.S. secretary of state, earlier this week.


"The new administration will reach out across the Atlantic to leaders in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and others including and especially, the new democracies."

After words like that, who would bet against the nation that gave America the Statue of Liberty being the first to take a phonecall from the 44th U.S. president?

All About Barack ObamaU.S. Presidential Inauguration

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