WHITE HOUSE - President Barack Obama leaves early Monday for the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland and a visit to Berlin. The conflict in Syria and U.S. surveillance policies will be among the main topics of discussion.
While the G8 is normally considered an economic summit, this year’s gathering at a resort in Northern Ireland will address the bloodshed in Syria…and whether eight of the world’s most influential countries can stop it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is the only G8 leader who supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He is seen as the key to any G8 agreement on Syria, according to Scheherazade Rehman, the director of Europe studies at George Washington University.
“Putin loves this kind of stuff," Rehman said. "He is the center of attention at this particular juncture. He knows that, without him, no peace deal can be brokered with Assad.”
Presidents Obama and Putin will meet separately at the G8, and Syria will likely be the main topic there, too, says James Goldgeier, Dean of the American University School of International Service.
“[The] best that probably could be hoped for is, again, a push for an international conference, at which the different parties in the Syrian conflict would actually attend," said Goldgeier. "And whether or not they can achieve that, or whether or not events on the ground are preventing that from happening, remains to be seen.”
However, Goldgeier believes the U.S. and Russian presidents can work together on some other issues. “They both have a strong interest in counterterrorism. I think both sides have an interest in seeing that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. They have an interest in trying to defuse the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
While in Northern Ireland, Obama also wants to push forward talks toward a major U.S.-European Union free trade agreement, which could boost jobs and growth by eliminating tariffs and other barriers.
The president is likely to be confronted with the issue of U.S. government surveillance, both at the summit and when he meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin later in the week.
Rehman said the issue might complicate their meeting. “NSA had put that program in place to spy on Middle East intelligence. It has now since come out that this has been in Europe and particularly Germany as well," he noted. "And the German public are in a bit of an uproar about this. Rightly so, because they believe that the U.S. is infringing on basic civil rights, not only in the U.S., but it is extending to Western Europe now.”
Obama also will speak at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, near where he addressed an estimated 200,000 people during his 2008 presidential campaign.