- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

President Obama said Wednesday he was not in London to lecture, but to listen, and his busy schedule surrounding the Group of 20 summit of world leaders offered a glimpse into the new president’s diplomatic style and goals.

Mr. Obama balanced serious discussions on nuclear proliferation and global financial solutions with jokes about Britain’s national sport - correctly calling it European football - and earned headlines for giving Queen Elizabeth II a video iPod.

His style was a stark change from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Mr. Obama acknowledged that the United States deserves some blame for the global financial crisis but struck a hopeful tone about ways to pull out of the recession through international cooperation.

“I came here to put forward our ideas, but I also came here to listen, and not to lecture,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the start of his first major international trip since taking office Jan. 20.

Mr. Brown, whose approval ratings have sunk while Mr. Obama has gained popularity in Europe as a symbol of change from the Bush presidency, said the new American president has given “renewed hope” to the world’s citizens.

“Thank you for your leadership, your vision and your courage, which you’ve already shown in your presidency,” he said. “Your first 70 days in office have changed America, and you’ve changed America’s relationship with the world.”

Mr. Brown softened a blow from a British journalist who was pressing Mr. Obama on whether the United States deserved international blame for the economic crisis, jokingly referring to himself and saying he was well-known for pointing fingers at “the government” until he “became the government.”

Mr. Obama said the U.S. has an inadequate regulatory system and “has some accounting to do,” but added, “I’m less interested in identifying blame than fixing the problem.”

The meetings on the first day of his tour each yielded tangible results - from nuclear proliferation agreements to setting dates to visit Russia and China later this year.

As promised, the president listened to world leaders and his team aimed to find areas where they could work together, though advisers said Mr. Obama did not avoid tough topics such as human rights.

Mr. Obama demonstrated positive assessments of his bilateral meetings. He said his talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “present great promise.” Alongside Chinese President Hu Jintao, he proclaimed the two leaders “can work cooperatively together to improve peace and security for both nations and the world at large.”

He was greeted with encouraging remarks in return.

“Since President Obama took office, we have secured a good beginning in the growth of this relationship,” Mr. Hu said.

Mr. Medvedev said he was looking forward to hosting Mr. Obama this summer. “July is the warmest time in Russia and in Moscow, and I believe that will be exactly the feature of the talks and relations we are going to enjoy during that period in Moscow,” he said.

After Mr. Obama said the U.S.-Russia relationship “has been allowed to drift,” Mr. Medvedev agreed the nations had been “drifting in some wrong directions.”

“We believe that the time has come to reset our relations, as it was said, and to open a new page in progression in the development of our common situation,” Mr. Medvedev said.

They came together to announce their goals for renegotiating the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, set to expire this year.

The Obama administration did not leave much to chance. It made sure each talk produced results that each side could claim as a cooperative victory, and aides said Mr. Obama sought a “workmanlike agenda.”

Senior administration officials said the meetings were more than a “let’s get to know each other,” but instead were intended to “push things forward.”

The officials told reporters in London that Mr. Obama was “not shy” about speaking with Mr. Medvedev about human rights violations or his “real disagreement” over Russia’s conflict with Georgia.

The officials said they aimed to “have a common understanding of what missile defense is designed to do and not designed to do.” They went even further by declaring that any lingering Cold War tension among the United States, China and Russia, where one is exploited by the other is “over.”

Mr. Obama’s visit captured international attention, and first lady Michelle Obama’s fashion choices dominated the airwaves at home and abroad.

At Buckingham Palace, the Obamas presented an iPod as a gift to the queen.

White House staff had it inscribed and loaded with video footage from her visit to the United States in 2007, and the queen returned the favor by offering the president her traditional gift - a silver-framed photograph of herself and her husband, Prince Philip.

Media coverage centered on Mrs. Obama’s attire, but also featured the menu prepared by “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver: baked salmon with salad and beans, lamb shoulder with mint sauce, and a tart for dessert. During the dinner, Mr. Obama was seated next to leaders from Germany and South Korea.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama dodged a reporter’s question about the politically troubled future of Mr. Brown. He offered only bland campaign advice that “good policy is good politics” and “every day you’re waking up saying, how can I make the best possible decisions to create jobs, help young people imagine a better future, provide care to the sick or the elderly or the vulnerable, sustain the planet.”

He did offer some kind words that stopped short of an endorsement, saying Mr. Brown has long demonstrated integrity and “will continue” to show it in the future.

Mr. Brown said he had been exchanging ideas with the U.S. president about fitness: “Not the treadmill of politics, but the treadmill that we’re both on every day, the running machines, and how you can manage to do that when you’re traveling around the world and going to different countries.”

Throughout the day, Londoners gawked and snapped pictures, while the British press marveled at the fortress of security in preparation for the Group of 20 summit, which officially begins Thursday.

During the day, the first lady wore an outfit she purchased from American retailer J. Crew. She changed into attire by a prestigious designer for the royal visit and before dinner, where she sat next to “Harry Potter” series author J.K. Rowling and model Naomi Campbell.

She also went with Mr. Brown’s wife, Sarah, to tour a center for cancer patients and held several private teas before joining the president at Buckingham Palace.

Mrs. Obama will join spouses of world leaders for a visit to the Royal Opera House before visiting an all-girls school.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide