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Europe cools towards Obama: poll

By Luke Baker

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's popularity remains high in Europe but has fallen in the past year as doubts emerge about some of his foreign policies, an opinion poll published on Wednesday showed.

The annual Transatlantic Trends survey, conducted during June in 11 European Union countries, Turkey and the United States, found that while Obama remained more popular than his predecessor George W. Bush, there were concerns about the line he had taken on issues such as Iran and its nuclear program.

Most of the Europeans surveyed said they wanted the United States to exert strong leadership in world affairs, but fewer than half approved of how he was managing relations with Iran or how he was going about stabilizing Afghanistan.

Overall, the survey painted a picture of a broadly popular president, with 78 percent of Europeans approving of his leadership, down from 83 percent in 2009, but one whose skills were called into question on major policy decisions.

"(This year's survey) reveals the fault lines that remain across the Atlantic and the work that is left to be done," said Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank that sponsors the poll with Italian foundation Compagnia di San Paolo.

Despite some tension between the United States and the European Union over economic policy, particularly when it comes to the fallout from Greece's debt crisis and how to manage the economic recovery, most of those surveyed (54 percent of Americans and 58 percent of Europeans) said relations were good.

That bodes well for an EU-U.S. summit to be held in Portugal in November, a meeting that was called off earlier this year after Obama said he would not be able to attend, raising concerns in Europe about the quality of transatlantic relations.

In a year when the 16 countries that share the euro have suffered from the currency's weakness and Greece's debt problems, the survey showed most respondents in France (60 percent), Germany (53 percent) and Spain (53 percent) believed the euro had been bad for their economies.

At the same time, 57 percent of EU respondents said Europe's economic difficulties should strengthen the commitment toward a stronger EU and 63 percent said the EU was good for their country's own economy, even if the euro currency was not.

TURKISH FRUSTRATION

For the United States and Europe, perhaps one of the more disconcerting findings in the survey was evidence of Turkey's growing frustration with the United States and the EU, and its shift toward the east and the Arab world.

In the 2004 survey, more than 70 percent of Turkish respondents said membership of the EU would be a good thing, but that dropped to 38 percent in this year's poll.

The number who said Turkey should work most closely with countries in the Middle East on international matters, rather than with the United States or the EU, doubled to 20 percent in 2010, with only 6 percent saying Turkey should work with Washington.

Among Turks, Obama's approval rating fell from 50 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2010.

"Turkish public opinion has always stood apart from that of the other countries in the survey, but this year's results are particularly striking and shed light on the direction of Turkey's recent foreign policy," the survey authors wrote.

"Compared to last year, Turks were less convinced that NATO is essential, less interested in joining the EU and less likely to say their country shares values with the West."

Another area of division was between the United States and Europe when it comes to the rising power of China.

More than 70 percent of Americans surveyed said it was very likely China would exert strong leadership in the future, while only a third of Europeans felt the same. Nearly two-thirds of Europeans also said China and Europe had such different values that cooperation on international problems was impossible.

(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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