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Obama to Discuss Economy, Afghanistan in Europe


The ailing world economy and the search for a new strategy for Afghanistan are likely to dominate Barack Obama's first overseas trip as U.S. president. The president leaves March 31 on a European journey that will include a meeting in London on the global economic crisis, and a gathering of NATO allies on the French-German border.

During his run for the White House, Barack Obama held one of his biggest campaign events in Berlin.

"America has no better partner than Europe," he said.

He spoke of a new era in trans-Atlantic ties.

"Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together," Mr. Obama said.

On this trip, Europeans will be watching to see if Mr. Obama can turn his words into action.

"This is the first occasion for President Obama actually to show world leadership in practice rather than just talking about it," said Reginald Dale, who analyzes U.S. European relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The London financial summit with the world's 20 largest economies will be Mr. Obama's first opportunity.

Dale says the economic crisis is paramount. "What is everyone looking to the United States for for leadership? It is the economic crisis. This is affecting everyone," he said.

President Obama is extremely popular among Europeans unlike his predecessor George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama could use that political capital, according to John K. Glenn, foreign policy director for the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"It was relatively easy, you might say, for European leaders to say no to George Bush," Glenn said. "It is going to be much harder for them to say no to Barack Obama."

Support for the war effort in Afghanistan will top the president's agenda at the NATO summit.

This is where Europeans' support for Barack Obama and their distaste for war could collide.

Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution says the Obama administration may well take European sensitivities into account in drafting a proposal for the NATO summit.

"To the extent that President Obama goes and says here is a plan, we have tried to factor in your concerns and then he talks but also listens at the summit, I think the chances increase of coming out of that summit with an approach that has more 'buy-in' by allied leaders," he said.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have already gone to Europe.

The approach of the new administration is to talk and to listen."And this in some ways is balm on the ears of Europeans," Glenn said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is the only European leader to hold formal talks with President Obama since he took office.

Later, he told Congress that transatlantic ties are strong.

"There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe," Brown said.

The Bush administration drew distinctions between the old allies in the west and the new democracies to the east where its policies were more popular.

President Obama is expected to reach out to leaders across the continent. He travels to the Czech Republic after the NATO summit. Turkey will be his last stop. And there is speculation he might deliver his long-awaited address to the Muslim world in Istanbul.


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