All eyes are on London this week as leaders from the world's leading economies gather to find a way out of the growing financial crisis. But tensions are growing between the US, Europe and China, and a common course has so far proven elusive.
It is an important test for the new US president. During his campaign, Barack Obama promised fundamental change, pledged to steer a determined course in combating the global economic crisis and said he would seek greater international cooperation. It was, he said, to be a "New Deal."
This week, an important international summit meeting is about to begin, and the time has come for Obama to demonstrate that he can deliver on his promises. At their meeting in London, the representatives of the world's leading industrialized nations will discuss the global recession, a financial industry in disarray and a sharp drop in world trade.
At issue is the steepest economic downturn in decades, and everyone is waiting to see what the new man in Washington will do. Will he be responsive to the Europeans' insistence on a new global financial order? Or will he focus instead on stimulating growth in his own country?
The president who determined the fate of the London Monetary and Economic Conference in 1933, at the height of the world economic crisis, was Franklin D. Roosevelt. His eventual decision to distance himself from the conference aggravated the global trade wars and deepened the Great Depression.
Seventy-six years later, another international crisis conference is now set to begin. Once again, banks have collapsed and millions of people have become unemployed. In the wake of sharp declines in the securities markets and a sell-off in the financial industry, the world faces the prospect of widespread hardship. As the representatives of the leading nations meet in London once again, all eyes are focused on the American president.
Will Barack Obama bring success to the summit or will he focus primarily on national interests?
Most of the heads of state and government of the so-called Group of 20, or G-20, will arrive in London on Tuesday of this week. They will be accompanied by their finance ministers and the heads of their central banks, and they will come from Europe's powerful industrialized nations, from Brazil and Australia, from Russia and China, as well as from South Africa, Indonesia and India. When it comes to saving the world, it is important that all major groups and regions are represented.
The focus on Wednesday, when Britain's Queen Elizabeth II receives the regents, will be ceremonial. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles are also expected to attend, and the assembled dignitaries will spend the evening dining with Prime Minister Gordon Brown at No. 10 Downing Street, before the actual negotiations begin on Thursday.
The conference will be held at the ExCel Conference Center in the Docklands, the former site of the London docks. Beginning at 8 a.m., the national leaders and their financial experts will attend separate working breakfasts, following by three hours of plenary sessions. There will be a "working lunch," more plenary sessions in the afternoon and, at 4 p.m., a press conference.
At that point, the heads of state and their delegations, each numbering about 20 -- guarded and protected by at least 2,500 police officers -- will tell about 2,500 accredited journalists, and the world, what conclusions, if any, they have reached.