During European Trip, Arab Spring Is on Agenda

By Jeff Baron
Staff Writer

The setting for President Obama’s trip this week is Europe, but a major topic on the agenda will be North Africa and the Middle East. The goal is a more democratic, more prosperous region.

The president set the stage by delivering a major policy speech on the Middle East on May 19 in which he applauded movements for political and economic self-determination and pledged financial support for new governments in Tunisia and Egypt. From his arrival May 23 in Ireland through stops in Britain, France and Poland, meetings with other world leaders will cover a range of economic and security issues. But U.S. officials say the Arab Spring and how the United States and its partners should respond to it will be major topics.

White House officials say the region is on the agenda for May 25, when Obama meets with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. “We’ve been closely coordinating with the United Kingdom throughout the last several months, obviously with regard to Libya but also with our broader support for democratic movements in the Middle East and North Africa,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters in advance of the trip.

The president will travel to Deauville, France, for the summit meeting of eight major industrial powers, known as the G8. “We expect the G8 to continue to discuss the ideas that the president laid out in his speech surrounding international support for Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the support of international institutions for democratic transitions,” Rhodes said.

The second day of the G8 summit will include meetings with the prime ministers of Egypt and Tunisia and leaders of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. The result, presidential adviser Mike Froman said, should be “one of the most important outcomes of the G8, which is that we expect there to be a broad embrace of an approach” to the region that includes “supporting financial stabilization, modernization, reform of the economies in the region to support private-sector growth, entrepreneurship and job creation and further integration both regionally and with the global economy.”

Obama and another partner in the Libyan operation, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, are scheduled to meet as well, and Rhodes said the two sides have “great interest with regard to the events in the Middle East and North Africa more generally.”

Liz Sherwood-Randall, the senior White House director for European affairs, said the uniquely close relationship between the United States and its European allies — based on shared values — allows them to be “a catalyst for global action” in such challenging situations as Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.

Obama and others have drawn a parallel between the Arab pro-democracy movements of today and pro-democracy movements 20 years ago in Eastern and Central Europe. The final stop of his European tour is Poland, where leaders of Eastern and Central Europe will be meeting. Rhodes said the Middle East will also be on the agenda for Obama’s meeting with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

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