Although not on the official agenda, the G-8 leaders are sure to be talking about future leadership of the IMF now that former chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has resigned after being arrested on attempted rape charges in New York. European leaders are anxious to put another European in that position while emerging economies would like to see a process that is open to someone from the developing world. U.S. officials have said they favor an open process, without being more specific.
Obama’s visit to Europe comes a little more than a month before the U.S. is scheduled to start its gradual troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. The president has said the initial drawdown will be significant, but it’s unclear how many specific answers he’ll have for European leaders. Britain and France, in particular, are looking for details on the U.S. withdrawal timetable for signs of how NATO will move from combat missions to a training role by the end of 2014.
The Afghan mission is deeply unpopular in many European countries, and political pressure has led some leaders to set timetables for their withdrawal. The British are planning to draw down 400 of their nearly 10,000 troops this year, with all British troops out by the end of 2014. France, which has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, has said it is considering speeding up its withdrawal now that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead.
During his two-day stay in Deauville, France, Obama will take time for one-on-one meetings on the side of the G-8 with several world leaders, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The U.S.-Russia relationship, though much improved since the Bush administration, remains complex.
Medvedev has spoken out strongly in recent weeks against U.S. plans to plant missile interceptors in Romania as part of a U.S. shield over Europe, saying that could threaten Russia. He’s warned that Washington’s failure to cooperate with Russia on the missile shield could lead to a new arms race, and also threatened to pull out of the New START nuclear treaty with the U.S. if Russia feels at risk.
Obama’s meeting with Kan would be his first with the Japanese prime minister since the March tsunami and earthquake that triggered a nuclear crisis in Japan. The U.S. has sent military and humanitarian assistance to Japan, as well as nuclear experts, to help the country recover from the disaster.
Robert Kupiecki, Poland’s ambassador to the United States, says Central Europe’s experiences in moving toward democracy offer many lessons that are “directly applicable” in the Middle East and North Africa, and that Poles and others in the region are anxious to help the democratic movement spread. Lech Walesa, the former Polish president who founded the Solidarity freedom movement, has visited Tunisia, and Walesa will meet with Obama in Poland to talk about the experience.