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An array of goals for Obama’s trip

Sun., March 29, 2009

WASHINGTON – Here are some key issues, in question-and-answer form, surrounding President Barack Obama’s trip to the G-20 summit this week and his meeting with NATO allies and EU nations.

Q. What is the main purpose of President Barack Obama’s trip to Europe?

A. The president will gather with leaders of the world’s 20 major economies at the G-20 summit, and with the NATO allies and the European Union at their meetings, before taking a side trip to Turkey to begin his promised outreach to the Muslim world.

Q. What’s on the agenda?

A. The agenda items include discussion of what to do about the crashing global economy and how to stem extremist activity in Afghanistan.

But in a broader sense, Obama is setting out on his first overseas trip as a head of state to signal a new day in American foreign policy, and to begin building one-on-one relationships with world leaders with whom he will work to confront grave economic and security concerns in the future.

Q. What is the G-20 and what is its purpose?

A. The G-20 (technically, the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors) first came together in 1999 in response to the financial crises of the late 1990s, in an effort to head off or contain future troubles. The group tries to promote economic stability through discussions between industrial countries and emerging markets, and to support growth and development around the globe.

The G-20 is made up of representatives of 19 countries – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the U.S. – and the European Union.

The group’s potential to influence the global economy and financial system is great. Member countries represent about 90 percent of the global gross national product, 80 percent of world trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. But leaders’ ideas and interests are diverse, and agreements will not come easily.

Q. What does Obama want from the leaders of these countries?

A. First and foremost, the meetings present a chance for the president to establish his leadership position. Obama hopes to begin building consensus about how to tackle the economic crisis, as well as greater commitment to fighting Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a series of one-on-one meetings with various heads of state, the president will likely begin wide-ranging discussions on everything from NATO expansion and nuclear armament to Iraq withdrawal plans, diplomatic engagement with Iran and development of a more cooperative relationship with Russia.

Q. What is the stimulus plan he proposes?

A. Earlier, the U.S. wanted the other nations to agree to pour money – amounting to 2 percent of their gross domestic products – into their economies to get things moving again. Obama is unlikely to push that, because France and Germany came out against it, but a coordinated package of stimulus spending plans is still a key part of the administration’s general approach to spurring economic recovery.

Q. Why are they reluctant to help him even before he asks?

A. European leaders openly express wariness about building up large public debt to pay for stimulus spending – and more quietly, some question why they should spend money to fix a problem for which they blame the U.S. Before dumping money into the system, goes the logic, the leading economies should tighten up regulation of the financial markets.

Also, Europeans see less need for stimulus spending because social safety nets in place in some countries, including job protections and unemployment benefits, already direct government spending into the economy.

Q: What are the president’s plans in Strasbourg?

A: Strasbourg, France, and the neighboring German city of Kehl are the sites of the NATO gathering. The president will hold bilateral meetings with foreign leaders and attend the alliance’s 60th anniversary summit.

Q: Why is the president visiting Turkey?

A: Obama has promised to rebuild relations with the Muslim world, saying in the presidential campaign that he would make a major address from an Islamic capital during the first few months of his administration. His staff has been careful to say that this trip will not include the promised Muslim capital speech, an idea that might offend Turkish secularists who don’t view Ankara in those terms. But Obama will probably speak publicly while he is there, where most of the population is Muslim, and his tours of Ankara and Istanbul will give him a chance to cultivate this important – and strategically positioned – ally.


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