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North Korea, Iran Intrude Into Obama’s SOTU Plans

A carefully orchestrated pivot to jobs and the economy by the White House ahead of Tuesday night’s State of the Union may end up being overshadowed by the day’s national security news.

The day broke with reports that North Korea conducted another internationally provocative nuclear weapons test, Iran is reportedly converting some of its enriched uranium into reactor fuel, and the White House confirmed that President Barack Obama is slated to announce a plan to cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Those developments could overshadow what the president lays out in a speech expected to be dominated by domestic policy, even if the carefully vetted speech gets a few tweaks to acknowledge the news events.

Republicans have already attacked Obama’s nuclear policies in the wake of the North Korea test, while Iran’s ambitions and the potential for a United States strike on its facilities has been a major focus of congressional concern during consideration of former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of Defense. Hagel’s nomination is expected to be approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee today on a party-line vote.

And, unlike the president’s domestic agenda — much of which will require congressional action — foreign policy remains an area where the president can often act independently.

Ahead of the speech, the White House noted Obama had called South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in response to North Korea’s test and pledged to work together on new efforts to crack down on North Korea’s program.

“President Obama unequivocally reaffirmed that the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to the Republic of Korea, including the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella,” the White House said in a statement.

The administration itself made the biggest splash earlier today when a senior administration official said the president would announce a plan to pull out 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by a year from tonight.

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