Obama's influence, limitations on display at G-8

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm •  Published: June 18, 2013
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BERLIN (AP) — Now a veteran of the international summit scene, President Barack Obama wielded significant influence over the agenda at this week's Group of Eight meetings, but had only modest success in achieving the results he sought.

It was Obama's recent move to arm Syria's rebel fighters that catapulted the two-year civil war to the top of the agenda as leaders gathered at a lakeside resort in Northern Ireland. But the president made little progress in pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop his support for the Syrian government, resulting in a final statement from the leaders that endorsed a political solution to the violence but stopped short of calling for President Bashar Assad to leave power.

The president also was at the center of a breakthrough with European Union leaders on starting negotiations on a sweeping free trade pact eagerly sought by the White House. But the U.S. was unable to convince France to drop its demands that its film industry be off limits in an eventual deal, a hurdle that could prove problematic when negotiations begin next month.

Obama's mixed results underscore both the broad reach and the limitations of American power at a time when the president is grappling with an array of foreign policy problems, all with implications for U.S. national security. Among them: winding down the war in Afghanistan, combating alleged Chinese cyberhacking, and nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea.

The Syrian conflict, which has resulted in at least 93,000 deaths, has garnered the most attention, both in Washington and at the summit. Despite Obama's failure to break new ground with Putin, U.S. officials said the summit's final statement on Syria was the best that could be expected given the entrenched differences between Russia and a U.S.-Western European coalition.

"Given the various ways the G-8 could have gone, we believe that on the key issues of political transition, humanitarian support and chemical weapons investigation, it's very helpful to have this type of signal sent by these eight countries," Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with Obama from Northern Ireland to Berlin following the summit's conclusion.

Political transitions — and sometimes political turmoil — have lifted Obama to veteran status among the G-8 leaders. The Northern Ireland summit marked his fifth appearance at the annual meeting of leading industrial nations and his first since winning re-election.

Obama's counterpart in the G-8, in both longevity and stature, is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has held power since 2005. The U.S. and German leaders are scheduled to meet in Berlin on Wednesday, with the global economy, the Afghan war and counterterrorism all on the agenda.

The centerpiece of Obama's 24-hour stop in Berlin will be a speech at the iconic Brandenburg Gate, which once divided East and West Germany. In a nod to the site's history, Obama is expected to extoll the deep ties between the U.S. and Europe, while also seeking to recast the relationship for modern times.

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