- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

STRASBOURGH, FRANCE (AP) - Wheeling and dealing in politics is universal.

That’s one of the lessons President Barack Obama says he took away from his first NATO summit.

He has said throughout his tour of European countries that he had come “to listen, to learn.” So an Austrian television reporter took him up on it.

“Mr. President, you said you came here to learn and to listen. So a quite personal question,” she asked at his closing news conference Saturday. “What did you learn from your personal talk with the European leaders? And did this change in a certain way your views on Europe and its politics?”

Obama said he was “extraordinarily impressed” by the quality of leadership he witnessed at the organization’s 60th anniversary meeting.

“It was also interesting to see that political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate,” said Obama, a former senator. “There’s a lot of _ I don’t know what the term is in Austrian _ wheeling and dealing, and, you know, people are pursuing their interests, and everybody has their own particular issues and their own particular politics.”

But he said his counterparts know when to put them aside to achieve common goals.

“It’s a testimony to the success of the European Union, as well as NATO, that on very important issues, each leader seems to be able to rise above parochial interests in order to achieve common objectives,” Obama said. “And I think that has accounted for some of the extraordinary success and prosperity of Europe over the last several years.”


A day after showering Nicolas Sarkozy with praise, Obama seemed to suggest his French counterpart needed some lessons in fair play.

After calling on five U.S. reporters at the news conference, Obama announced he was switching to foreign reporters for the final two questions.

“You guys weren’t even on my list but I’m adding you on so that … and I want to make sure that the other world leaders treat my American colleagues, well, too, though,” he said, prompting laughter from the media gathered inside a room at a French palace where the summit talks were held.

“Did Sarkozy give you guys any questions?” Obama asked.

There was more laughter as members of the White House press corps vigorously shook their heads ‘no.’

Obama laughed some more.

“You see there? There’s got to be mutuality in the trans-Atlantic relationship,” he said before pointing to the Austrian TV reporter, who had waved her hand vigorously.


Obama also learned that events back home can intrude on official business being conducted abroad.

Before taking questions, the president commented on an “extraordinary tragedy” in Binghamton, N.Y., where authorities blame a gunman for the shooting deaths of 13 people on Friday. Obama said his administration had been in touch with federal, state and local law enforcement, and was monitoring the investigation.

He said there was a lesson in the tragedy for other countries as well.

“I am heartbroken for the families who survived this tragedy, and it just underscores the degree to which, in each of our countries, we have to guard against the kind of senseless violence that the tragedy represents,” he said.


Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen may owe his selection as the next NATO secretary-general to Obama.

Turkey had objected strongly to the Danish leader. That’s because Fogh Rasmussen infuriated many Muslims by defending freedom of speech during a 2005 uproar over a Danish newspaper’s publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Discussions on the choice of Fogh Rasmussen began over dinner Friday night, but could not overcome Turkey’s concerns.

So Obama convened a meeting Saturday morning with himself, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Fogh Rasmussen that lasted about an hour and significantly delayed the start of the official NATO session, according to retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser.

Jones said the meeting broke the deadlock.

All 28 member countries signed off on Fogh Rasmussen as NATO’s next leader.

Obama noted the unanimous vote at his news conference.

He thanked Turkey “for raising some concerns having to do with their security issues and their confidence that the new secretary-general would address them,” Obama said. “So I congratulate all the parties concerned in arriving at an outstanding outcome.”

Obama also expressed his confidence in Fogh Rasmussen, “calling him an outstanding public servant” and “somebody with an extraordinary reputation.”


One sticky situation where Obama’s diplomatic touch wasn’t needed was getting reporters, including White House press, into the room for his news conference.

They handled it themselves by simply refusing to leave.

A bus ride to the NATO summit building for the news conference ended with authorities blocking reporters from entering. It appeared that, since the NATO meeting had started late, the time when media would be allowed inside also had been pushed back.

A standoff ensued with police, who ordered the reporters back onto the buses. They refused to go anywhere.

Before long, a van full of reinforcement riot police was called in. That scared some reporters onto the buses, but a group of White House reporters stood their ground, on the sidewalk, and discussed options for what to do next.

Option A: Bring another bus to take the reporters someplace to wait.

B: Find a special escort to take them inside.

C: Herd all the other reporters back on buses and bring them back to the site, and let everyone in.

Choice C won.


AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS style on Fogh Rasmussen in subseqent references in 4th item.)

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