Obama embarks on first overseas trip

March 31, 2009 5:52:20 AM PDT
When Barack Obama traveled to Europe last summer, he was a candidate looking to shore up his foreign policy credentials and prove to the American public that he was qualified to be commander-in-chief. When he travels to Europe today, he is President Obama and by default, the face of American capitalism which many blame for the current global economic woes.

Obama still remains popular abroad and Europeans have applauded him for reversing many of the most controversial policies of George W. Bush, including his move to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, ending aggressive interrogation techniques and outlining a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq.

But Obama will encounter European leaders who are skeptical about his administration's economic policies and who are unwilling to commit further resources in Afghanistan.

At the heart of the eight-day, five-country trip, Obama's first overseas as president, is the G20 economic summit where European concerns over the U.S. economy will be front and center.

Obama's has three major challenges during this whirlwind trip:

Forge consensus among world leaders for a global economic recovery plan.

Rally European allies behind his recently outlined strategy for Afghanistan and get them to commit to send more troops.

Rebuild the international confidence in the United States that was shaken during the eight years of the Bush administration.

The biggest point of disagreement heading into the summit is how best to stabilize and grow the global economy and there are wide differences in the approaches favored by the G20 leaders.

Obama has urged foreign governments to spend more in order to spur economic growth, while European leaders prefer greater regulation to get the economy to bounce back.

The president will be joined by his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, who will have her own schedule of events including a visit to an all-girls school in London, a tour of a health facility there with Sarah Brown, Britain's first lady, and events with other NATO spouses in France.

Obama and the First Lady will pay a courtesy call to Queen Elizabeth II of England at Buckingham Palace.

First up for Obama is the G20 economic summit, comprised of leaders from 19 major and developing nations and the European Union. The G20 nations represent more than 85 percent of the global economy, about 80 percent of world trade and two-thirds of the world's population.

Global Economic Recovery

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the summit's host, is pushing for a united global economic front.

"We can transform the summit from just an annual meeting into an unstoppable progressive partnership to secure the global change the world needs," Brown said.

The goal for the meeting is twofold: agree on a way forward to manage the current global economic crisis and develop a plan to prevent future crises.

But those two goals pose a significant challenge for Obama. While the other G20 nations are looking to the United States to take the lead, their leaders are not shy about disagreeing with the American approach.

Leaders from France, Germany, Russia and China arrive at the summit in London armed with skepticism about the American economy and the Obama administration's plans for recovery.

Many world leaders have publicly resisted Obama's call for global economic stimulus efforts.

Last week, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek deemed the Obama administration's economic policies "a way to hell."

"America is repeating the mistakes from the thirties&extensive stimuluses and calls for protectionism," said Topolanek who is also the current president of the European Union. "The worst about these steps is that they are intended to be permanent which is a way to hell."

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pointed the finger at the United States and Europe, and sparked considerable controversy when he said last week that the global economic crisis was caused by "white people with blue eyes."

White House officials have downplayed the disagreements.

"I think going into the summit, there's a broad consensus among the G20 as to what needs to be done in these areas to restoring growth and a regulatory reform efforts," said Mike Froman, Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs. "Between the stimulus program, the financial stability program and its various elements, and the regulatory reform agenda that [Treasury] Secretary [Timonthy] Geithner laid out this week, the U.S. has taken significant steps on each of the elements of the overall agenda."

Poll: Americans Increasingly Confident About Economy

"The president and America are going to listen in London, as well as to lead. Many of the things that we've done over the past couple of weeks, and particularly just in the past week, demonstrate that America is leading by example," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows Americans are increasingly confident about the economy, a potentially persuasive tool for Obama at the G20 summit.

Forty-two percent of Americans now say that the country is moving in the right direction, up from 19 percent before Obama took office in January and just 8 percent last October.

Thirty-six percent of Americans still say the economy's getting worse, but that is dramatically lower than the 62 percent who said that in January and a record 82 percent last October.

Afghanistan and Pakistan Top Agenda at NATO summit

At the end of the week, Obama will attend a NATO summit which will be jointly hosted by France and Germany. The war in Afghanistan and the situation in Pakistan will be at the top of the president's agenda when he sits down with NATO allies and meets with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

White House Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough said the Obama administration is working with NATO allies to "increase resources both as it relates to troops, but also as it relates to trainers, as it relates to civilian capacity, and as it relates to economic investment and assistance" in Afghanistan.

McDonough said the White House expects "some progress," but cautioned that it is an "ongoing process."

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said it will be a big challenge for the Obama administration to convince NATO countries to contribute more troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

"They're not going to be doing much. I can predict no more than a few hundred or maybe a couple thousand additional troops at most. It's going to be a big challenge," O'Hanlon said.

Obama Will Meet With Students in Turkey

Obama finishes his trip with a stop in Turkey, a Muslim nation, where he will stress that Turkey is a vital member of the NATO alliance and a close ally of the United States. Relations with Turkey have been strained since the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and administration officials hope the visit will smooth over tensions.

"We share a commitment to democracy, a secular constitution, respect for religious freedom and belief and in free market and a sense of global responsibility," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in early March when she announced the president's stop in Turkey.

In Ankara, Turkey Obama will meet with President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Obama travels to Istanbul where he holds a series of meetings with local cultural leaders and a roundtable with students. The White House said it this roundtable will give Obama a chance to speak to young people in Turkey, across Europe and in Southwest Asia and will use video technology.

Obama will deliver two major speeches: one in Strasbourg, France focusing on the transatlantic alliance and another in Prague focusing on proliferation challenges.

They may not all agree with Obama, but world leaders are lining up to meet with him.

In addition to the G20 summit and NATO and EU meetings, Obama goes to Europe with a busy schedule of one-on-one meetings with a host of world leaders including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Dmitriy Medvedev of Russia, President Hu Jintao of China, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Obama will meet with David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party in Britain. And in Prague he will meet with former Czech President Vaclav Havel

ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer contributed to this report

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Story taken from ABCNews.com.

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