On the first day of his whirlwind tour of Europe, President Barack Obama, who has spent much of his presidency thus far preoccupied with problems at home, both made his debut onto the world stage and launched what will be a week of juggling diffuse and complicated negotiations.
Those negotiations include talks with European countries on the question of initiating a larger stimulus effort versus implementing more financial regulation and with Russia on U.S. missile defense plans and how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Sensitive talks will also take place with China, which currently holds $1 trillion of U.S. debt and whose premier admitted that he was "a little worried" about those holdings, given the recession.
With Obama in London today before tomorrow's Group of 20 conference, some negotiations have already begun. This morning, Obama met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev face to face for the first time. For the two countries with the largest nuclear stockpiles, the major topic was nuclear arms control. The two world leaders agreed to begin immediate talks on a new treaty on offensive nuclear weapons, with the looming December expiration of the START agreement, which requires the nations to reduce their nuclear arsenals.
In a joint statement issued after the closed-door meeting, Obama and Medvedev also underlined their commitment to working together on global challenges "while also addressing disagreements openly and honestly in a spirit of mutual respect." The statement says, "We, the leaders of Russia and the United States, are ready to move beyond Cold War mentalities and chart a fresh start in relations between our two countries."
Obama also met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown today. At a joint press conference, the leaders sought to underscore the cooperation among the G-20 countries on how to handle the economic crisis—particularly in the wake of reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy might walk out of the summit if it didn't adhere to his calls for stricter regulation. Even so, Obama called claims of international disagreements "vastly overstated."
The G-20 negotiations, involving leaders from 20 of the world's major economies, begin tomorrow. On the same day, Obama is expected to have his first personal meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and he will also meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.