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Obama leaves White House for European meetings

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 31 2009 7:35 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama left for Europe Tuesday, packing a weighty agenda as he heads for critical economic and political talks in his first journey across the Atlantic since taking office two months ago.

Obama's focus: a G-20 meeting of the world's major economic powers and a NATO summit marking the 60 years since the alliance was founded to blunt Soviet aggression in Europe.

Obama's eight-day, five-country trip begins early Tuesday, sending him to meet with European leaders who split with the United States over the war in Iraq and the treatment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay under President George W. Bush.

First up: a summit of the world's economic powers in London to address the global financial meltdown that has defined the first two months of Obama's administration.

"The president and America are going to listen in London, as well as to lead," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The main event in London is Thursday's summit on the global financial crisis among the Group of 20 wealthy and developing nations. Together, they represent 85 percent of the world's economy.

Obama planned to meet with leaders of Britain, Russia and China — major players in the U.S. financial system. He also scheduled meetings with leaders of India and South Korea while in London.

But money isn't the sole agenda item. Obama plans to attend international summits on urgent topics, including the downward-spiraling fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also will make his first stop in a Muslim nation, Turkey.

Wildly popular around the globe but relatively inexperienced in foreign affairs, Obama and his wife, Michelle, also will squeeze in a Buckingham Palace audience with Queen Elizabeth II. He will deliver a speech in France on the trans-Atlantic relationship, and an address in Prague on weapons proliferation. And he will host a round-table session with students in Turkey.

When Obama went to Europe last summer — he was a senator seeking the presidency — he was received like a rock star. His welcome this time is expected to be no less enthusiastic.

Since taking office, Obama has made down payments on several campaign promises that had endeared him to Europe, such as addressing global warming and moving to end the Iraq war and close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Obama isn't doing too badly with his constituents at home either. In Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday, 66 precent of respondents said they approve of the way he is handling his job. Sixty percent said they approve of the way he is handling the economy.

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