With G-8, NATO talks in U.S., Obama will have home-country advantage in demonstrating global leadership skills

  • Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2012 12:11 a.m., Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 12:12 a.m.
President Barack Obama will host G-8 leaders at Camp David on Friday, then he will fly to his hometown of Chicago for a NATO meeting on Saturday.

WASHINGTON — More than two dozen world leaders will join President Barack Obama in an extraordinary weekend of back-to-back summits to tackle Europe’s mounting economic woes and solidify plans for winding down the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The Group of Eight economic summit and the national security-focused NATO meeting will be infused with politics from every angle. For Obama, the summits are an election-year opportunity to show leadership on the world stage without having to leave the U.S.

With some new faces around the conference tables, Obama and the other leaders will be confronted by the stark reminder of the political turmoil from Asia to Europe that cost several of their old counterparts their jobs.

Since late 2011, public frustration with Europe’s debt crisis has led to the ouster of leaders in Italy, Spain, Greece and, most recently, France. Two other members of the G-8, Britain and Japan, have had leadership shake-ups since Obama took office.

Obama is fighting for his own job in a campaign expected to hinge on the economy. He has had the good fortune of being able to hold both summits this year in the U.S., allowing him to tailor the meetings around his election-year messages of expanding the economy, creating jobs and ending the war.

The summit locations rotate annually for each organization.

Leaders from the world’s eight leading industrialized nations arrive in the Washington area on Friday for meetings at Camp David, the wooded presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. Immediately after the G-8 summit, Obama and most of the other leaders will fly to Chicago Saturday evening to join other heads of state from NATO.

Obama originally planned both meetings for Chicago, his hometown. But the White House abruptly scraped those plans in March, announcing with little explanation that the G-8 would shift to Camp David.

It was an unexpected move from Obama, who rarely spends time at Camp David and has never hosted a world leader there, unlike many of his predecessors. The White House said that location would lend itself to more intimate talks, and it will keep them far from the protests that usually flare on the summit fringes.

U.S. and other diplomats said a major reason for the switch was to appear welcoming to Vladimir Putin, who recently reclaimed the presidency in Russia. Putin planned to skip NATO because of his staunch opposition to the alliance’s planned missile defense shield, and separating the two meetings was seen as a way to give Putin cover to slip away less awkwardly.

Ultimately those efforts were in vain. In a diplomatic snub, Putin told Obama last week that he was skipping the G-8 as well in order to stay in Russia and focus on forming his government.

Russia’s former president and current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, will attend the G-8 sessions, which also include the U.S., Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Canada. White House officials insisted Putin’s presence was not a factor in their decision to move the G-8 summit.

The G-8 talks are expected to be dominated by the eurozone crisis, though Obama administration officials are keeping expectations for tangible agreements low. While the health of the U.S. economy is closely linked to Europe’s stability, Obama has made clear that he has no appetite for ponying up American money to help bail out the continent.

Instead, Obama will largely play the role of facilitator, urging European leaders to balance calls for austerity, largely driven by Germany, with a growth agenda.

The NATO talks will firm up plans for how the alliance will finish its shift from a combat role in Afghanistan to an advisory role next year.

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