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Obama Prepares for Russia Summit, G8, Africa Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama is preparing for another round of international travel. He leaves Washington Sunday evening for a Moscow summit on arms control, followed by the annual Group of Eight Meeting in Italy, and what is sure to be an emotional trip to Ghana.

In Moscow, the president will seek to reset the U.S. relationship with Russia. Relations eroded in recent years by disputes over Georgia, NATO enlargement and other issues.

He will meet individually with both Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Their primary goal: to jumpstart negotiations on a new agreement to replace the soon-to-expire Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Mr. Obama says it is important to consult with both men, noting Prime Minister Putin - the former president - still has a great deal of power.

Outdated approach

In an interview with the Associated Press, President Obama said President Medvedev seems to understand the old Cold War approaches to U.S. - Russia relations are outdated. But Mr. Obama said he cannot say the same for Vladimir Putin.

"Prime Minister Putin still has a lot of sway in Russia," the president said. "And I think that it's important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, that Putin understands that the old Cold War approaches to the U.S. - Russia relations are out dated."

Andrew Kuchins is a Russia and Eurasia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He says President Obama would be well served to spend as much time as possible with Vladimir Putin.

"The most important part about his trip to Moscow is going to be his discussions with Vladimir Putin, in my view," Kuchins said, "for the simple reason that Mr. Putin is by far and away the most important and powerful figure in Russia. It is pretty simple logic."

Effort to reach out

While the first day in Moscow and part of the next morning will be devoted to meetings with Russia's leaders, President Obama also intends to reach out to the Russian people with a speech and a set of discussions with representatives of civil society and the political opposition.

Denis McDonough, the White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, says the president will deliver two speeches on this trip - one in Russia and one in Ghana. He says they are part of a four-speech series that began with an address on arms proliferation in April, and an outreach to the world's Muslims in June.

"Moscow will be a speech about U.S. Russia relations and how great powers ought to see this new century," McDonough explained. "And then, of course, the speech in Ghana will be an enunciation of democracy and development goals as it relates not just to Ghana or not just to West Africa and not just to Africa, but to the whole part of this world that is the developing world."

The appearances in Moscow and Accra will be bookends around another round of important multilateral summitry. This time it is the Group of Eight Summit hosted by the Italian government in a town devastated by an earthquake just months ago.

This summit will have a broad agenda, and will include participation by leaders of major economies outside the formal G8 structure, such as China. Also in attendance will be representatives of several African countries.

Ghana excited

White House officials say Ghana is the perfect spot for a presidential visit after the G8, saying it is a shining example of good governance on the continent.

"Ghana is a truly admirable example of a place where governance is getting stronger, a thriving democracy," said Michelle Gavin, the top White House advisor for Africa.

The trip will end in Ghana on a highly emotional note.

The first black president of the United States - the son of a Kenyan father - will visit an old slave fort called Cape Coast Castle. It is one of many fortresses along the Ghanaian coast, where countless Africans spent weeks in cramped dungeons before they were herded through a door of no return, and shoved onto ships, leaving Africa behind for a life of servitude.