Obama Summitry Comes Amid Deeping Global Economic Woes
Updated 3:09 p.m.
By Michael D. Shear
LONDON -- President Obama arrived in London Tuesday for a series of meetings with European leaders aimed at restoring health to the global economy, confronting terrorism and repairing relations with allies abroad.
Obama's first trip overseas as president comes at a dramatic and tense time as the world confronts economic crises worse than any seen in decades. And his visit will offer the first clues of the new, post-Bush diplomacy that Obama promised on the campaign trail.
White House aides this morning cast his participation in the G-20 economic summit in historic terms, comparing it to a similar summit in 1933, largely deemed a failure at the time.
"We're gathering the G-20 at a time of the most severe economic crisis in generations," said Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economics. "The stakes for this summit are very high."
He added: "The economy has declined in November and December. The crisis has spread."
Obama's mission in London -- to foster world unity around a common set of economic measures -- is made more difficult by discord throughout Europe about how to confront the crisis, anger about America's role in starting it, and disagreement with some of the president's prescriptions for fixing it.
As they anticipated his arrival in London today, European crowds held signs blaming America for the economic downturn, calling the president out for hypocrisy as he campaigns for tougher regulations to rein in banks and financial institutions.
Last week, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gave official voice to that frustration, saying that ''this is a crisis that was caused by white people with blue eyes'' who "before the crisis, they looked as if they knew everything about economics.''
To that, Froman said that President Obama is not coming to Europe to get into an argument about who caused the crisis.
"The causes are many and they go beyond the U.S.," he told reporters at a briefing in London. "But we're not here to be defensive."
Economics are likely to be the focus of the first couple of days. But Obama will quickly confront some of America's toughest adversaries, meeting with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev and Chinese president Hu Jintao for the first time.
On the eve of those conversations, Medvedev penned an article in today's Washington Post in which he called for a "restart" to cooperation with the United States and offered prescriptions for "overcoming our common negative legacy."
In the article, Medvedev appeared eager for warm relations with the new American president. But he also warned Obama about how quickly the relationship soured as George Bush pursued policies that the Kremlin saw as against their interests.
"All of these positions undermined Russia's interests and, if implemented, would inevitably require a response on our part," he wrote Tuesday.
As the talks have approached, the Russians have struck a tone of cautious optimism about the prospect of better relations with the Obama administration, saying there are still various areas that needed to be addressed.
They remain highly opposed to plans for a missile defense shield in Europe and insist that any future expansion of NATO would not offer greater security to Europe, but rather, divide it.
The Russians have reached an understanding with Iran over the sale of surface to air missiles, but said they have yet to deliver on shipments. Though the U.S. has pressed Russia to exert more pressure on Iran to abandon nuclear weapons research, Moscow maintains there is little more it can do, saying its nuclear dialogue with Tehran is based solely on energy production.
Posted at 12:21 PM ET on Mar 31, 2009
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