Obama in Portugal; meets with EU, NATO partners

President Obama meets with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva before their bilateral meeting at the Belem National Palace in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)President Obama meets with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva before their bilateral meeting at the Belem National Palace in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Back on the world stage for crucial talks, President Obama on Friday quickly encountered European leaders willing to question a president weakened at home and rebuffed abroad.

Standing next to Mr. Obama to address the media after the two met privately, Portugal’s president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, complained that the level of U.S. investment in his country is “far from what you would expect.”

He said Portuguese trade and exports to the U.S. also were far from where they could be.

Mr. Obama did not respond to Mr. Cavaco Silva’s comments when it was his turn to speak, choosing to focus on the goals for his latest trip abroad to attend NATO and U.S.-European Union summits.

“We’ve come to Lisbon again to revitalize the NATO alliance for the 21st century and to strengthen the partnership between the United States and the European Union,” Mr. Obama said.

The president said the summit also provides an important opportunity for NATO and European nations to align their approach to transition in Afghanistan “as we move toward a new phase, a transition to Afghan responsibility beginning in 2011 with Afghan forces taking the lead for security across Afghanistan by 2014.”

After his meeting with Portugal’s president, Mr. Obama sat down with the country’s prime minister, Jose Socrates. Mr. Obama told Mr. Socrates the United States would work with Portugal and Europe to address financial ills.

“Portugal is working through challenges created by some of the financial markets and I think that it’s important to note that the prime minister has committed himself to a very, very vigorous package of economic steps,” Mr. Obama said after their meeting, “and we are going to be working with all of Europe as well as Portugal in support of these efforts.”

Coming off midterm elections at home where high unemployment contributed to steep Democratic losses in Congress, Mr. Obama also was careful to underscore jobs and economic benefits as the “highest priority for both our countries.” He said they’d work to increase trade and investments.

Mr. Socrates also highlighted work on economic issues, asserting that the countries agreed on the need for greater multilateral cooperation to reform and better regulate financial institutions.

Mr. Socrates said the summit “will also open a new era of relations with Russia” that would contribute to global security. The NATO alliance was originally founded in 1949 to counter the threat of a Soviet invasion.

Mr. Socrates also said that he’d guaranteed to Mr. Obama that Portugal would be “stepping up its presence in Afghanistan” by providing training to troops there.

Mr. Obama’s two-day Portugal trip comes days after a sometimes disappointing 10-day swing through Asia, the longest foreign trip of his presidency. Though he failed to ink a free-trade deal with South Korea and couldn’t rally wide-ranging support for his opposition to China’s currency manipulation, he did make clear that fast-growing Asia is central to U.S. foreign policy.

It’s a reality not lost in Europe, where some leaders worry that Mr. Obama views the continent as a secondary player in his foreign policy agenda.

“There is some disappointment in the sense of how much attention he’s given to Europe — that maybe he’s been more focused on Asia, more focused on other problem areas, and that really the interest in Europe is about how many trainers and forces you can provide for Afghanistan,” said Stephen Flanagan, a former State Department official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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