Obama to meet with leaders in Mideast, Europe

July 18, 2008 6:31:27 PM PDT
Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama intends to sit down with European leaders as well as King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of a campaign-season trip that aides described Friday as substantive rather than political.

The Illinois senator also is slated to meet with opposition leaders in Israel and Britain.

Officials have yet to provide precise dates for the trip, and have confirmed few details about the itinerary, citing security details. On a conference call with reporters, they said they were not yet ready to disclose where in Berlin Obama will speak when he delivers an address on U.S.-European relations.

"The trip is not at all a campaign trip, a rally of any sort," said spokesman Robert Gibbs. He said Obama would hold "a series of substantive meetings with our friends and our allies to talk about the common challenges that we face and the national security dangers for the 21st century."

Denis McDonough, a senior foreign policy adviser, said Obama would meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Germany, President Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown as well as Conservative Party Leader David Cameron in Britain.

In Israel, he said, Obama will meet with Olmert as well as President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He also will talk with Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party.

Palestinian leaders have said Obama will visit the West Bank for his talks with Abbas, but campaign aides declined to confirm a location. In addition to Abbas, they said he will meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Obama intends to travel aboard a jet chartered by his presidential campaign. His trip has drawn intense media interest in the United States as well as overseas, where officials are anticipating the end of President Bush's tenure in January.

Republicans have cast Obama's trip as political stagecraft rather than a substantive trip.

And while his own aides insist politics is not involved, Democrats sharply criticized Republican rival John McCain this spring when he flew to Canada aboard his campaign jet for a brief trip that he described as non-political. While in Ottawa, McCain implicitly criticized Obama as part of a speech defending the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The issue of a location for a speech in Germany has proven nettlesome for Obama. German media reported several days ago his aides were hoping to arrange for a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of the Cold War and the spot where former President Reagan delivered a memorable speech.

Merkel let it be known she had other ideas, and Obama's campaign has sought to minimize any controversy.

"We're looking at a variety of locations in Germany and we'll pick one that we believe meets our needs and also the needs of our German hosts," McDonough said.

In addition to his trip to the Middle East and Europe, Obama has also said he intends to visit Iraq and Afghanistan this summer.