LONDON April 1, 2009 -- Before the G-20 summit officially began with a dinner for the heads of state this evening, President Obama spent the day hard at work, attempting to build a united approach to tackle the global economic crisis and forge relationships with foreign leaders.
Diplomacy was the order of the day, as Obama announced a partnership on nuclear proliferation with Russia and a new dialogue on human rights with China.
Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met for the first time this morning, after years of what both leaders described as a drift between the two countries.
"I think, over the last several years, I think the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift. And I believe what we've done today is a very constructive dialogue which will allow us to work on issues of mutual interests like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our non proliferation treaties," Obama said.
Together they declared a new day in U.S.-Russian relations, pledging to work on nuclear disarmament in countries such as North Korea and Iran, and announcing a plan for bilateral negotiations on arms control, as well as a joint summit in Moscow this summer.
An administration official said the goal of the negotiations would be to shrink the joint U.S.-Russian nuclear arsenal to 3,000 warheads from the current allowable level of 4,400.
"It is important to note that there are many points on which we can work," Medvedev said today at his joint event with Obama, according to a translation from the White House. "And indeed there are far more points ... where we can come closer, where we can work, rather than those points on which we have differences."
While Obama identified a "set of common interests" with Russia, including Afghanistan, Iran, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, economic stabilization and more, administration officials say the leaders diverged on a host of issues.
According to senior officials, Obama expressed opposition to Russia's war with neighboring Georgia, Russian support for the break-away Georgian republics, as well as the notion of Russia's sphere of influence over neighboring cultures.
"I don't think 'spheres of influence' in the 21st century is a useful concept," the president said, according to senior officials.
Another point of contention came regarding the United States building a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, which Russia adamantly opposes.
Throughout the day, Obama, who has said that "the world is hungry for American leadership," attempted to establish a cooperative dialogue in his meetings.
"I came to put forward our ideas, but I also came here to listen, and not to lecture," he said.
When asked if the United States was to blame for the global economic crisis, Obama acknowledged that inadequate regulation of the financial markets was a contributing factor, but said he's less interested in identifying blame than fixing the problem.
"In some ways the world has become accustomed to the United States being a voracious consumer market and the engine that drives a lot of economic growth worldwide," he said. "If there's going to be renewed growth, it can't just be the United States at the engine."
With the G-20 concluding Thursday, stakes remain high for the president abroad, but also at home.
"What I think each of us is committed to doing is to make sure that people are getting immediate help, even as we're solving these broader structural problems, because we don't want that kind of suffering, but it's also not good for the overall health of the economic system," Obama said.
President Gives Queen an iPod
Obama took time out from a hectic day of nuclear breakthroughs and arranging geopolitical summits with Russia and China to visit the queen in Buckingham Palace -- and to give her an iPod.
In a day laced with diplomatic minefields, Obama also had to confront this one: What do you get for a woman who has everything?
The presidential answer was an iPod.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited the queen at the palace this evening and presented her with a gift of a video iPod with an inscription on it and songs pre-loaded. The Obamas also gave the queen a rare musical songbook signed by American composer Richard Rodgers.
In return, the queen gave the Obamas a signed portrait of herself and her husband inside a silver frame.
The Obamas were dressed in black and white-- the queen wore a pink dress.
Thousands of well-wishers, including a few holding Obama signs, congregated in front of Buckingham Palace to get a glimpse of the president's motorcade as it made its way to the palace's Garden Entrance, site of the two concerts for the queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 and a location where the queen entertains guests in the summer months.
The president and first lady met privately with the Queen and Prince Philip inside the palace.
Obama is the 11th U.S. president that Queen Elizabeth II has met, going all the way back to President Harry Truman, whom she met when she was a princess. The queen did not meet Lyndon Johnson in person.
Obama Works on Diplomatic Front
The White House announced that Obama accepted an invitation from Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit China in the second half of this year. The two leaders agreed on a new strategic dialogue that will focus on Sudan, Iran, North Korea and human rights.
Obama said at the start of his meeting with Hu that he was looking forward to an open and productive conversation with China not only on the global economic crisis but also on how the two countries can work together to improve peace and security around the world.
Obama said that as strong as the U.S.-China relationship is, he is confident that it can be stronger for years to come.
"I continue to believe that the relationship between China and the United States is not only important for the citizens of both our countries but will help to set stage for how the world deals with a whole host of challenges in the years to come," Obama said.
The nuclear breakthrough with Russia came on the first day of the G-20 summit in London, which was intended to focus primarily on salvaging the world's economy.
Obama, however, concentrated today on his meeting with Russia. After his meeting with Medvedev, Obama said there are areas of "common interest" between the U.S. and Russia that "present great promise," but he acknowledged that relations between the two countries have been strained recently.
"There are very real differences between the United States and Russia and I have no interest in papering those over," Obama said during a morning news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "But there are also a set of common interests."
The president listed those interests as ranging "from Afghanistan to Iran," including "reducing nuclear stockpiles … reducing the threat of terrorism ... stabilizing the world economy … and finding a sustainable path for energy and dealing with some of the threats of climate change. ... I think there's great potential for concerted action and that's what I think we'll be pursuing."
"A good place to start will be the issue of nuclear proliferation," the president said.
The current nuclear arms START -- or the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- ends Dec. 5, 2009. It was signed in March 1991 and removed more than 75 percent of the strategic nuclear weapons in both countries' arsenals.
More than 3,000 police are battling protesters as numerous groups have planned demonstrations on a wide variety of grievances. Protesters have smashed windows and entered the Bank of Scotland and tried to storm the Bank of England.
Protesters are confronting police over barricades and pelting the cops with eggs and fruit.
Despite the talk of tensions and disagreements among the world leaders at the start of the critical economic summit, Brown praised Obama for his leadership and courage and for providing new hope to the United States and the world.
"Your first 70 days in office have changed America and changed America's relationship with the world," Brown said.
Obama: Economic Differences 'Vastly Overstated
The questions were sharp and focused on the global economic crisis and whether the United States has to shoulder the blame.
"The U.S. certainly has some accounting to do with respect to a regulatory system that was inadequate," Obama said. "I had a law professor who said some are to blame, but all are responsible."
Obama's calls for greater global stimulus have received a chilly reception from European leaders, especially French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But as his aides have been doing during the last several days, Obama downplayed those differences.
"I think that the separation between the various parties involved has been vastly overstated," Obama said. "That's just arguing at margins."
Obama kicked off his day at the iconic home of the British prime minister -- 10 Downing St. -- joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.
Brown is Obama's partner at this summit, working with him to gain consensus on a way to tackle the global economic crisis, but they are facing skepticism that something of real substance can be accomplished.
"I think it is very ill advised to have all the razzmatazz, have all the ballyhoo that they had because there is nothing concrete of any significance that's likely to come out of it," said former British Finance Minister Lord Lawson.
First Lady Visits Cancer Center with PM Brown's Wife
Even though he is thousands of miles away, Obama still has NCAA basketball on the brain. During his news conference this morning with Brown, Obama was asked whether he had a good luck message for the England soccer team that is playing in a World Cup qualifying match.
"I'm in enough trouble back home for picking brackets for the college tournament, stirred up all kinds of controversy. The last thing I'm going to do is wade into European football. … That would be a mistake," Obama said, noting that this is one subject he didn't get a briefing on before his trip.
The first lady and her British counterpart Sarah Brown spent the morning at Maggie's Center, a facility for cancer patients in Central London.
The two women visited with cancer patients, who told them how the center had helped them through the difficulties of the disease.
Maggie's Center is a place for cancer patients and their families to gather for support, comfort and practical advice. Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown also stopped in on the Look Good, Feel Better program, a beauty parlor/makeup session with two female patients.
Michelle Obama talked about her "wonderful" makeup artist and said that the artist volunteers for a similar program in the United States.