Pomp and power politics on Europe tour

May 22, 2011 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, May 22 – US President Barack Obama leaves Sunday on a major European tour mixing pomp, personal history and great power diplomacy shaped by the historic uprisings raging through the Arab world.

Obama is seeking support for his plan to spur democracy after revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and may face pressure from Europe for a more robust US role in Libya as the Atlantic alliance is updated in an era of new challenges.

The president will journey to ancestral home turf in the tiny village of Moneygall in Ireland, bask in the splendor of a state visit with the Queen of Britain, meet world leaders at the Group of Eight summit in France and visit Poland.

Despite suggestions Obama prefers Asia to Europe, the president has repeatedly trekked across the Atlantic, and aides say he is firmly committed to the world\’s most successful continental alliance.

"This is a very important trip for the president to reaffirm our core alliances in the world (with) our European allies," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security adviser.

Obama\’s election, after the George W. Bush years, was greeted with euphoria in Europe, both sides may have reason for disappointment in the Obama presidency so far.

Europe perhaps did not get the president it hoped for, as Obama failed to close the "war on terror" camp at Guantanamo Bay, saw his climate change initiative collapse and appeared to look to booming Asia for America\’s future.

The White House was frustrated that calls for more European combat troops for Afghanistan rarely materialized and looked on as its hopes for more burden sharing waned as indebted allied governments slashed military spending.

America and Europe did work to save the global economy, but differences emerged as Obama stimulated his nation back to growth, while several European governments chose austerity.

But turmoil in the Arab world — Europe\’s backyard and an area of national interest for Washington — and the NATO operation in Libya, have highlighted the importance of the transatlantic alliance.

"Europe is our essential partner based on the values we share, and we see that every day as we look at the developments across the broader Middle East," said Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the top European policy official on the US National Security Council.

Washington would like to reinvigorate the transatlantic alliance.

"I think you are going to hear a lot about Europe being the cornerstone of our engagement, and a catalyst for global action," said Heather Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"You\’re going to hear a very strong message… that if Europe can marshal the political will and the necessary financial resources, it will be part of a broader effort to work on the complex issues."

The president will be in Europe for the first time since the daring raid in Pakistan by US special forces which killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, and burnished his credentials as commander-in-chief.

Though the raid cheered Americans, it worried some sectors of the European elite, with some commentators questioning why the architect of the September 11 attacks in 2001 was not brought to trial.

Obama will begin his tour in Ireland Monday, with talks with Irish President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

But the high point of his visit will be a trip to Moneygall, the village home of his great-great-great grandfather on his mother\’s side, Falmouth Kearney.

On Tuesday, Obama will fly to London and the pomp of a state visit, with two nights in Buckingham Palace and talks with Prime Minister David Cameron.

The status of the NATO operation against Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi will be a dominant issue, with both sides keen to show that the conflict, in which Washington is supporting a European lead, is not verging on stalemate.

"Time is not on (Kadhafi\’s) side," a Western diplomat in Washington argued ahead of Obama\’s trip.

"I think the president\’s visit, and the G8, will show we have a great deal of determination to get this done as soon as we can."

In Westminster Hall, Obama will address both houses of the British parliament, in a speech distilling his thoughts on the "special relationship" with Britain and his aspirations for US-Europe cooperation.

On Thursday, Obama will leave London for Deauville, France and the G8 summit, which may see the leaders discuss the vacant post of head of the International Monetary Fund, after Dominique Strauss-Kahn\’s arrest.

Obama is seeking European support for his effort to use economic development to spur Egypt and Tunisia towards full democracy.

He will also meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

On Friday, the president will journey on to Poland, to discuss plans for a US missile shield in Europe, which the Poles will partly host.


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