Obama trip to Europe, Saudi Arabia to be dominated by Crimea


McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Barack Obama had planned a week long trip to Europe and Saudi Arabia to highlight global progress in ridding the world of nuclear materials, soak up the positive publicity emanating from Pope Francis and reassure an anxious Gulf ally of the U.S. commitment to the region.

Instead, the trip will be dominated by Russia’s military seizure of Crimea and Obama’s efforts to persuade European allies to step up sanctions on Russia, even as critics at home suggest Obama hasn’t been as tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin as he needs to be.

Obama, who arrives in the Netherlands on Monday for a Nuclear Security Summit, has convened a meeting of the top seven industrialized countries to discuss how to punish Russia and support the Ukrainian government. He’ll also meet Monday with President Xi Jinping of China, who met with first lady Michelle Obama on her China trip.

He’ll hold a press conference at the close of the summit and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss U.S. efforts in Syria, nuclear negotiations with Iran and the prospect for Middle East peace talks.

He’ll also meet with President Park of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Abe of Japan.

He’ll travel to Brussels on Wednesday and mark the centennial anniversary of World War I by visiting Flanders Field, an important WW 1 battlefield. There he will meet with King Philippe of Belgium and Prime Minister Di Rupo, participate in a wreath-laying and a tour of the battlefield.

Obama will attend the U.S.-EU Summit, where he'll meet with Presidents Von Rompuy and Barroso, with the situation in Ukraine “front and center,” said White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes. They’re also likely to talk about the status of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and hold a press conference.

After the EU meeting, Obama will meet with the Secretary General of NATO to discuss “not just the situation in Ukraine,” Rhodes said, “but the steps that we are taking to reinforce the security of our allies in Eastern Europe.”

Obama will then deliver a speech at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, in which Rhodes said he will “have a chance to discuss his vision of transatlantic relations, of European security.”

He said the situation in the Ukraine will factor into the speech, reinforcing “the need for the United States to remain committed to a strong transatlantic alliance, to the security of Europe, the integration of Europe, and to the values that the United States and Europe stand for together.”

From there, Obama will head to Rome where he will meet Thursday morning with Pope Francis, whom the White House has said shares Obama’s commitment to “fighting global poverty and growing inequality."

Rhodes said Obama has “long looked forward to” the meeting and has “very much admired the leadership” Francis has shown in his first year, including “his commitment to address issues like income inequality, and his leadership of the church more broadly.”

Following his audience with Pope Francis, Obama will meet with the Secretary of State Parolin to discuss Vatican issues. He’ll also meet with Italian President Napolitano and have his first bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Renzi of Italy. He’ll also tour the Coliseum.

He heads to Riyadh on Friday for a meeting with King Abdullah, for an “important opportunity to invest in one of our most important relationships in the Middle East,” Rhodes said.

He returns to the U.S. on Saturday.

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