Obama Prepares for European Trip
By Paula Wolfson
White House
30 March 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama will leave Washington early Tuesday morning on his first overseas trip since taking office. He will attend a global economic summit in London and a meeting of NATO leaders on the French-German border.

US President Barack Obama announces terms of latest auto industry bailout at White House in Washington, DC, 30 Mar 2009

For the first time, Barack Obama will officially represent the United States on the world stage.

He will visit five countries in eight days, take part in three summits, hold numerous bilateral meetings, deliver a major speech on arms proliferation and open a dialogue with young people on the Internet.

His first stop is London for a summit on the international economic crisis held under the auspices of the G20 - a grouping of 20 of the biggest leading and emerging economies.

All agree that action must be taken. But there are differences over the right mix of government stimulus spending and financial system reforms.

President Obama was expected to push for more spending, similar to action he has already taken to try to boost the U.S. economy. But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the president will not dictate specific spending targets.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (file photo)

"The president and America are going to listen in London, as well as to lead," Gibbs said.

Reginald Dale is an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

He says the president, who has promised new U.S. leadership, will have an opportunity to deliver in London.

"This is the chance - if Obama wants to restore world leadership - here is the opportunity being handed to him on a silver plate," Dale said. "And if he wants to show he is a world leader, he has to grasp that opportunity and do so."

Mr. Obama will also meet privately in London with the leaders of Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

The president has talked about his desire to ease tensions between the United States and Russia. And his initial one-on-one session with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev -- coming just days before the NATO summit -- will be watched closely.

NATO talks will focus on the war in Afghanistan. And at this summit, President Obama's public popularity in Europe could collide with the reality that few support sending more troops into combat.

John Glenn, Foreign Policy Director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States, says the Obama administration will likely ask the Europeans for more military trainers and civilian personnel.

"They are reluctant to send more troops and put them in harms' way. However, there are signs they are willing to do those other non-combat missions. I think that is going to have to be the way forward for the Obama administration," Glenn said.

Mr. Obama will not make his speech on weapons proliferation at the NATO summit. Instead, he will deliver it the next day in the Czech Republic - a relatively new NATO ally and the nation that holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

The president is invited to Prague for an EU summit with Czech leaders and European Union officials. While there, he is also expected to discuss American plans for a missile defense system in Europe. The Czech Republic and Poland would host components of the system, which is now under review by the Obama administration.

Mr. Obama will end his trip on a symbolic note in Turkey - the first predominantly Muslim country to host the new U.S. president. While there, he will seek to open a dialogue with young people in the region. Aides say Mr. Obama will host a question and answer session that will be conducted, in part, on the Internet.