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Obama Europe Trip to Focus on Economy, Security

US President Barack Obama tapes the weekly address, May 13, 2011
US President Barack Obama tapes the weekly address, May 13, 2011

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Kent Klein

President Barack Obama is scheduled to leave early Monday for a six-day, four-nation tour of Europe.  The president will talk with European leaders about improving the global economy and regional security as well as bilateral and multilateral relations.  

After a week of concentrating on the upheavals in the Middle East, President Obama will turn his attention to Europe and its concerns, mainly the state of the global economy.

The president will start in Ireland, whose economy, once called Europe’s “tiger,” is now reeling from a debt crisis.  (An interactive map on the trip can be found here)

Obama will mix business with pleasure in Ireland, visiting a small village where some of his ancestors had lived. "I am expecting to go not only to all the famous sites, but also to go to Moneygall, where my great-great-great-great-great grandfather hails from," he said.

Almost 37 million Americans claim Irish heritage, and Mr. Obama says the two countries share a close kinship.

Next, the president will spend two days in London for a formal state visit.  

He and Mrs. Obama will stay at Buckingham Palace, where Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will host a state dinner in their honor.

In London, Obama will speak to both houses of the British Parliament, and he will talk with Prime Minister David Cameron about the economy, security and other issues.

Steven Clemons, a senior fellow at Washington’s New America Foundation, says the United States and Britain have an enormous stake in the recent changes in the Middle East and North Africa. “The phenomenal changes underway and which will likely continue for years in the Middle East, the ongoing challenges of troop deployment in Afghanistan, the combined NATO and allied forces intervention in Libya," he said.

But analysts say the main purpose of the meetings in London might be to smooth over recent rough spots in the so-called “special relationship” between the United States and Britain.

After disagreements, including the Obama administration blaming Britain for last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Steven Clemons says the special relationship is not as special as it once was.  But he says that might not be cause for concern. “I do not look at the conflict as a problem as much as it is a sign of a natural and healthy move to a different kind of relationship in the future that may actually be more effective," he said.

The president moves on to Normandy, France, and the resort city of Deauville, where the Group of 8 industrial countries will hold its annual economic summit.

The leaders will cover numerous issues, including global health, food security and arms control.  But their primary focus will be on the state of the world’s economy.

Domenico Lombardi, a senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution, says Mr. Obama knows the economic health of the other G-8 nations will affect the pace of America's economic recovery. “But, of course, it still contains some elements of fragility, and in that sense, it is very important for the U.S. economy that the other systemically important economies are doing well," he said.

Lombardi says he expects Mr. Obama to push America’s European partners for tougher fiscal policies, especially toward heavily indebted countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland. “If anything, President Obama will be asking his European counterparts to be more aggressive in devising a more appropriate response to the crisis in Europe," he said.

At the same time, the president hopes to reassure his counterparts on the strength and importance of their relationship.

Obama will conclude his trip with a long-delayed visit to Poland.  The president had planned to visit Poland last year, for the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and other officials who were killed in a plane crash.  But the trip was canceled due to the huge cloud of ash from an erupting volcano in Iceland.

During this visit, Obama and President Bronislaw Komorowski are expected to sign an agreement to station U.S. F-16 fighter jets in Poland, a proposal that has angered Russia.

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