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LIANE HANSEN, Host:
Let's return now to our coverage of the continuing military strike against Libya. President Obama has been monitoring the situation there from Brazil. He's on a five-day trip through Latin America. The international military action in Libya may have intervened but it is not cutting the trip short.
NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president. He's in Rio. Hi, Ari.
ARI SHAPIRO: Hi, Liane.
HANSEN: When the president spoke last night, did he frame this as a U.S.-led operation or did he describe this as a supporting role?
SHAPIRO: You know, he mentioned allies again and again. He talked about the consensus among European and Arab allies. He described this as an international mission. And in that way, it almost echoed comments that President George W. Bush made eight years ago to the day when the U.S. invaded Iraq, talking about this is a coalition mission. Here is part of what President Obama said last night to reporters in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia.
BARACK OBAMA: As a part of this effort, the United States will contribute our unique capabilities at the front end of the mission to protect Libyan civilians and enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners.
SHAPIRO: You've heard that emphasis on the U.S. making just a contribution. He said the U.S. role will be limited and reiterated that no American boots on the ground will enter Libya. And he says that the mission is to protect Libyan civilians. In essence, his underlying message is this is not a war of choice but the world can't sit idly by while a dictator kills his own people.
HANSEN: Ari, what can you tell us about the president's actual involvement in the decision to launch military strikes against Libya?
SHAPIRO: Well, it's interesting. Yesterday, he had a very public agenda that seemed to bypass Libya. It was very focused on trade and economics with Brazil, but then there was also a private agenda, where each event of the day was sort of delayed and delayed, and we in the press corps wondered why.
In the evening, White House spokesman Ben Rhodes told us it was because he was getting briefings. The president was talking to his national security advisor, to Secretary of State Clinton, the Secretary of Defense Gates and even to foreign allies. He called the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, and then just before a lunch with American and Brazilian CEOs, he had this consequential conference call. He then went to the lunch and came out and talked to his speechwriters about what he wanted to say in that statement that we just heard a clip of.
HANSEN: Ari, if the president is sending the U.S. military to war in Libya, why is he in Brazil?
SHAPIRO: Yeah, well, it's a good question and there is some sensitivity to the tone of this trip. You know, the president does have some sort of touristy stops with his family planned and they don't want him to look as though he's not focused on this military action. But this has been a long-planned trip. It is the president's first trip to Latin America.
White House spokesman Ben Rhodes told us last night that they didn't need to cut the trip short because members of the national security team are on this trip. They're keeping him briefed. And he can go ahead talking to military leaders and foreign leaders in between these public events that are focused on the economy.
HANSEN: Why is it so important to the White House that the president not cut this trip short?
SHAPIRO: Some of this shows the way the White House has changed in the second half of President Obama's term, where new leaders are less likely to kind of turn on a dime and change the president's plans. You know, in Asia he had a trip that was rescheduled several times because of the health care bill, because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But this trip is especially important because of the economic stakes. The U.S. has a lot of trade with Latin America and wants to increase that trade. Brazil is growing fast. A lot of people are coming out of poverty and buying. Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. President Obama and the White House see this as a rope to help pull the United States out of the economic slump.
Brazil also recently found huge oil reserves and yesterday President Obama said we want to buy that. We want to be one of your best customers. So, it's really in the White House's interest and the White House believes in America's best interests to strengthen these ties with Brazil and the rest of Latin America.
HANSEN: That's NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro. He's traveling with the president in Brazil. Ari, thank you.
SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you.
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