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Obama plans trips to Russia, Italy, Ghana

From combined dispatches

President Obama will travel to Moscow for talks with Russian leaders, attend a Group of Eight summit in Italy and visit Ghana in a wide-ranging foreign tour in July, the White House said Saturday.

Mr. Obama also will chair a meeting on energy and climate change with leaders of the world's top economies while attending the Group of Eight summit in L'Aquila, Italy, from July 8 to 10.

It will be Mr. Obama's fourth major international trip since taking office in January.

Mr. Obama, who has promised a "reset" in sometimes strained relations with Russia, will visit Moscow July 6-8 at the invitation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"The summit meeting will provide an opportunity ... to deepen engagement on reducing nuclear weapons, cooperating on non-proliferation, exploring ways to cooperate on missile defense, addressing mutual threats and security challenges, and expanding the ties between American and Russian society and business," the White House said.

Washington and Moscow remain at odds over U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe that Russia sees as a threat to its security, but which U.S. officials insist is meant to deter any missile threat from Iran.

The G-8 summit of leading economies in Italy is expected to focus on efforts to curb the global financial crisis.

Mr. Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and an American mother, will make his first presidential visit to Africa when he goes to Ghana on July 10.

The White House said Mr. Obama hoped to strengthen U.S. ties with Ghana and highlight the "critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development."

The president's travel plans were announced after Mr. Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address, spoke of the change that has come to Washington.

Mr. Obama pointed to an agreement on an energy bill and a promise by interest groups to squeeze trillions of dollars in savings from the health care system as an example of that change.

Some of those most opposed to past attempts at health care overhaul pledged last week to reduce the annual rate of growth in such spending by 1.5 percentage points, for a promised savings of $2 trillion in the next decade.

Weeks of negotiations have led to the introduction in the House of an energy proposal that, for the first time, would mandate reductions in the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming and shift the country toward cleaner sources of energy.

Mr. Obama said Saturday that he was heartened by the "willingness of those with different points of view and disparate interests to come together around common goals, to embrace a shared sense of responsibility and make historic progress."

Both agreements, in the long term, will strengthen an economy experiencing its worst days since the Great Depression, Mr. Obama said.

The climate bill will help create millions of jobs producing wind turbines and solar panels and developing alternative fuels with the goal of reducing U.S. reliance on foreign energy sources, he said. Controlling health care costs will make businesses more competitive and give families more money to save or spend.

Republicans said they agree with Mr. Obama that the health care system needs an overhaul.

But they warned against offering consumers an option for health insurance that would be run by the government and replace employer-based coverage, saying it could have "devastating consequences" that include limits on care and higher taxes.

"A government takeover of health care will put bureaucrats in charge of health care decisions that should be made by families and doctors," Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. of Louisiana said in the Republican radio and Internet message.

"It will limit treatment options and lead to rationed care. And to pay for government health care, your taxes will be raised," said Mr. Boustany, a cardiovascular surgeon and member of the House Republican Health Care Solutions Group. "That is something we cannot support, and frankly, it would clearly violate some of the principles the president himself has endorsed."

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